Ralph Northam Says Churches Are ‘Non-Essential,’ Bans Services of 10 or More People

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Amidst a wide array of restrictions on day to day life as a result of the Chinese-born Coronavirus, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) has made attending church services of ten or more people a class one misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, with the additional option of adding or substituting a $2500 fine. 

Under Executive Order Fifty-Three, which mandated the closing of establishments deemed “non-essential,” all public gatherings of ten or more people are banned, with exemptions in place for providers of medical services, food banks, media outlets, and law enforcement, but none for religious gatherings.

The order took effect Tuesday night at 11:59 PM and is set to expire at 11:59 PM on April 23rd, although it may be extended or amended at any time. 

Among businesses deemed “essential” are grocery stores, building supply stores, and liquor stores.

It should be noted that in Virginia, liquor stores are owned and operated by Virginia’s state government, which maintain a monopoly on the state’s liquor business under the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC).

In Virginia Beach, an employee of one of the state’s ABC liquor stores has tested positive for the virus, leading to concerns of just how many customers and ABC employees have been exposed as a result of the store’s essential status.

Since Executive Order Fifty-Three has taken effect, ABC stores have seen a massive increase in profits, with sales surging by 59% in the last week, raking in over $30 million in profits for the state government. 

In addition to state-run liquor stores, Governor Northam has carved out an exemption for abortion clinics.

While Northam has directed Virginia’s healthcare facilities to postpone elective procedures, the directive does not apply to services provided to “patients with emergencies or urgent needs,” a category which receiving an elective abortion apparently falls under.

Unlike Virginia’s state-owned liquor sector and abortion industry, churches have remained shuttered, and the Governor has once again found himself on the receiving end of accusations of total disregard for the constitutions of both the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia. 

As many have pointed out, the First Amendment doesn’t have some sort of “in case of an emergency clause,” and a number of other State Governors, including Democrats, agree, and have exempted churches and other places of worship, from stay at home orders and recommendations. 

On a webpage operated by the Governor’s Office, a Frequently Asked Questions section discourages not just church attendance, but attendance at all places of worship, telling inquirers to instead attend church online, or “via drive-through worship.” 

“What about religious services? Can I still go to my church, synagogue, or mosque?” a question on the page asks. 

“Virginians are strongly encouraged to seek alternative means of attending religious services, such as virtually or via drive-through worship,” the Governor’s office replies. Places of worship that do conduct in-person services must limit gatherings to 10 people, to comply with the statewide 10-person ban.” 

In addition to churches, gun stores have been excluded from the Governor’s definition of “essential,” and are subject to government-mandated closure at any time.