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The church held services outside on May 17. Photo: video screenshot.

Suburban St. Louis church sues county over meeting restrictions

Another Missouri church has filed a lawsuit over restrictions on religious gatherings. Church of the Word in the St. Louis suburb of Fenton sued St. Louis County on Wednesday.

The church alleges that the county’s executive orders — enacting restrictions on gatherings and businesses to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic — are unconstitutional. The church argues the orders “treat the religious gatherings less favorably than similar secular gatherings” and are “not narrowly tailored.”

READ: DOJ warns California over unconstitutional church closings

In a Facebook post, the church explained their position, which is similar to thousands of churches across the nation who question how churches are treated differently than businesses.

“We are actively engaging with the civil realm to make sure that the establishment of religious liberty and freedom of speech isn’t lost in these days government expansion and fear!” the post read. “Pray for us!”

While Missouri is under a statewide reopening plan, counties and municipalities are able to enact more stringent policies. St. Louis County has been one of the hardest-hit regions in the state, with more than 370 coronavirus-related deaths. Churches are able to operate as long as services have an occupancy that does not exceed 25 percent of the fire code and congregants practice social distancing, County Executive Sam Page said Wednesday morning. Page also encouraged churchgoers to wear masks.

VIDEO: Church of the Word’s pastor talks about civil disobedience in outdoor service:

But Church of the Word, which can seat 120 people in its sanctuary, argued that in-person gatherings of its congregation are “fundamental to [its] religion” and mission. The executive orders “constitute overbroad restrictions and substantial, undue burdens on [the church’s] right to participate in the gatherings and to assemble to exercise their religious belief that they must worship together as a religious body as commanded by the Holy Bible,” the lawsuit alleges.

In another church Facebook post, church member Chris Croy responded to criticism from outside the church with the following statement concerning church restrictions:

We too have been utilizing those technologies to broadcast our sermons and engage the community and we are thankful for that opportunity!

We encourage and expect people who are high risk and elderly to stay home but we also feel it’s critical to gather in person.

The spirit of evangelism and fellowship is in community. Social Media is great but it’s poor replacement for fellowship.

Consider that in a social media driven world where we are more “connected” than ever – we as a nation have extraordinarily high rates of depression, suicide. Connection isn’t fellowship.

The legal issue is that state guidance has been arbitrary – favoring who they will and restricting others with no rhyme or reason. That should be alarming to all who value their inalienable rights.

The burden to make our case is high – it will be tough – but it’s important to force the state to explain!

Thank you for your prayers – be blessed!

“Our constitutional challenge is that your First Amendment right to assemble or congregate or gather in your faith and free exercise of religion is a fundamental right which must be protected,” said David Gregory, Church of the Word’s attorney David Gregory.

Gregory, a Republican state representative, also said: “Our hope is that we succeed and set a strong precedent for other churches and places of worship in the future.” The church seeks a temporary restraining order as well as an injunction.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice

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