Judge blocks North Carolina Gov. Cooper’s rule limiting indoor religious service amid coronavirus

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A federal judge in North Carolina has blocked Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order that limits indoor religious services to just 10 people during the coronavirus outbreak, ruling that there is “no pandemic exception” to the U.S. Constitution.

Judge James C. Dever III’s ruling on Saturday highlighted that Cooper’s “stay-at-home” did not set the same standard for other entities such as businesses, which are limited to 50 percent capacity, and funeral services that are allowed to hold up to 50 people, the Raleigh News & Observer reported.

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“The record, at this admittedly early stage of the case, reveals that the governor appears to trust citizens to perform non-religious activities indoors (such as shopping or working or selling merchandise) but does not trust them to do the same when they worship together indoors,” the judge’s ruling states.

Dever ruled that Cooper’s order was unlikely to hold up in court due to First Amendment rights.

“There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution of the United States or the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,” Dever said in court documents obtained by the paper.

Cooper updates the public during a press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic at the Emergency Operations Center on Thursday in Raleigh, N.C. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP)

Cooper updates the public during a press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic at the Emergency Operations Center on Thursday in Raleigh, N.C. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP)

Ford Porter, Cooper’s spokesman, said in a statement that while the governor’s office disagrees with the judge’s ruling, they will not appeal. Porter instead urged houses of worship to voluntarily follow public health guidance to keep their members safe.

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“We don’t want indoor meetings to become hotspots for the virus and our health experts continue to warn that large groups sitting together inside for long periods of time are much more likely to cause the spread of COVID-19,” Porter said.

North Carolina has 18,512 confirmed coronavirus cases and 659 deaths as of Sunday, according to state health department data.

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The state entered the first phase of its three-phase reopening plan on May 7. Parks were allowed to reopen and people could gather in groupings of 10 or less. Face masks are still encouraged to be used. Plans to initiate Phase 2 of the reopening plan have not yet been announced.

Fox News' Caitlin McFall contributed to this report.