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Catholic, Lutheran churches defy state order to limit worshipers

Minneapolis Star Tribune logo Minneapolis Star Tribune 5/21/2020 By Janet Moore, Star Tribune
Bernard Hebda standing in front of a building: Catholic Archbishop Bernard Hebda at the Basilica of St. Mary, after Easter services was livestreamed from the church. © Star Tribune/Star Tribune/Jerry Holt/Star Tribune/TNS Catholic Archbishop Bernard Hebda at the Basilica of St. Mary, after Easter services was livestreamed from the church.

The Catholic and Lutheran churches in Minnesota said Wednesday they will resume worship services on May 26 in defiance of an executive order issued by Gov. Tim Walz in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak limiting religious services at 10 people.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference and the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod in Minnesota sent separate letters to Walz announcing they would resume worship services next week. To date, the novel coronavirus has resulted in the death of 777 Minnesotans.

The move comes after “weeks of dialogue” with the governor, the churches said in a news release. Services will resume for congregations at 33% capacity next Tuesday with Pentecost on the following Sunday. The churches say they have committed to “instituting rigorous social distancing and hygiene protocols to prevent the spread of coronavirus.”

A spokesman for Walz was not immediately available for comment.

In addition, a group called the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty sent Walz and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison a “legal letter” claiming the continued closure of churches violates the First Amendment.

On May 13, Walz issued an executive order permitting malls and some retailers to open at 50% capacity, and on Wednesday the governor announced a phased-in plan to permit bars, restaurants, salons and barbershops to reopen June 1 at reduced capacity. However, the ban remains on in-person worship services for more than 10 people.

“Darkness and despair have taken hold of so many of our fellow Americans in the face of the economic and social hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda said in a statement. “Faith has always been a source of comfort and strength and now more than ever it is of the utmost importance that we are able to meet the spiritual needs of our community.”

“Throughout this crisis, we have been committed to modeling Christ’s love by protecting people from the spread of illness. That’s why it is so disheartening that the governor has subordinated our spiritual well-being to the economic well-being of the state,” said Rev. Lucas Woodford, president of the Minnesota South District of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod.

“Now that the state has deemed the risk of spreading coronavirus low enough to reopen nonessential business, we respectfully believe that it is our right and duty to safely resume public ministry to the faithful even without the support of the governor” Woodford said.

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©2020 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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