Craven County sheriff will let indoor worship services proceed

Columbus County DA won't prosecute

Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes
Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes

RALEIGH — Yesterday evening, Craven County sheriff Chip Hughes announced that his office will not be interfering with indoor church or worship services.

In a Facebook post on the official Craven County sheriff’s page, Hughes said that if “if social distancing and other guidelines are good enough to allow big box stores to operate, it should be good enough for in person church services.”

Hughes goes on to say that he took an oath to support, maintain, and defend the Constitution and that he will uphold that oath.

“As long as I am sheriff, neither my deputies nor I will forego that oath and interfere or prevent church goers to peaceably assemble and exercise their constitutional right to freely worship,” said Hughes.

As reported by WLOS ABC13, officials there won’t be arresting or charging anyone in the town of Columbus if they want to get a haircut.

Chief Scott Hamby has given the owner of Paul’s Barbershop two verbal warnings, but won’t be arresting or citing the owner.  District Attorney Greg Newman said he won’t prosecute, telling law enforcement the same.

“If you don’t like it call the governors office and find out what he’s going to do about it but as far as I’m concerned and every other DA we’re not going to criminalize men and women who want to make a living,” Newman said

Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell released a similar statement to that of Craven County’s and the Randolph County district attorney Andrew Gregson has questioned the legality of the worship provision.

In a letter to the Randolph County commissioners, Gregson wrote a letter outlining criminal charges that could be brought for violations of Gov. Cooper’s orders. Gregson said that Cooper’s order is “not narrowly tailored” or “applied neutrally.”  Prosecution as a result of the order would “invite a serious challenge regarding the order’s legality,” Gregson told commissioners in the letter.

Read the full Craven sheriff statement:

Message from Sheriff:

Our pastors and church leaders have been patient and have adhered to government authority thus far regarding the Governor’s restrictions on holding indoor worship services.

Church families are law abiding citizens, salt of the earth people that should be able to stand in unison to protect our First Amendment rights to “assemble peaceably” and exercise our freedom of worship.

Retail businesses are allowed to operate daily under rules; however, church goers have been unable to go to church once a week which is inconsistent, unfair, and quite frankly, morally wrong. All we’re asking the Governor to do is allow indoor worship services with reasonable restrictions, somewhat similar to local retail businesses.

I believe that if social distancing and other guidelines are good enough to allow big box stores to operate, it should be good enough for in person church services. It’s as though churches have been treated differently. For example, currently worship services are limited in-doors to 10 people, but 50 people can utilize the same space for a funeral.

I think our pastors and church leaders would be more inclined to implement safety guidelines for their brothers and sisters than businesses do for their customers. Why can’t churches be trusted to open their doors and take precautions to protect their people’s health and well-being?

As Sheriff of Craven County, the deputies and I took an oath that we would endeavor to support, maintain, and defend the Constitution for the people of this country. As long as I am Sheriff, neither my deputies nor I will forego that oath and interfere or prevent church goers to peaceably assemble and exercise their constitutional right to freely worship.

Craven County Sheriff

Chip Hughes

About A.P. Dillon 276 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_