Senators push back on Cooper’s ‘absurd’ church ruling

Sen. Ford attends ReOpen NC protest; people need to get back to work and worship

May 12, 2020 — ReOpen NC held its fifth protest in as many weeks outside Governor Roy Cooper's executive mansion in Raleigh. Photo credit: A.P. Dillon, North State Journal

RALEIGH — Two state senators are pushing back on Governor Roy Cooper’s  “phase one” order placing restrictions on religious services as well as the governor’s subsequent attempt at clarification of that order.

In a joint statement yesterday, Senators Kathy Harrington (R-Gaston) and Carl Ford (R-Rowan) said, “Gov. Cooper’s absurd state order is unconstitutional on two grounds: it treats churches differently than commercial establishments, and it treats some religions differently than others. It’s plainly unconstitutional.”

The joint statement says that Cooper’s order dictates enclosed buildings that house commercial establishments may operate at only 50 percent occupancy.

The senators go on to say that under Cooper’s order, identical buildings for religious services are only being allowed to operate at a capacity of 10 people, adding, “unless there is a dead body inside the building, at which time the house of worship may operate with 50 people.”

The joint release also notes that “unspecified religious service may operate at full capacity if that religion’s rules require indoor meetings of more than 10 people in the same room, which means the State is deciding which religions may worship freely and which may not.”

“Gov. Cooper’s order also has content-based restrictions: The governor has prevented more than 10 people from meeting in a chapel for a worship service, but he simultaneously allows 50 people to meet in that same chapel in the same pews if the worship service involves a funeral,” said Harrington and Ford. “There is no health and safety distinction between these two gatherings in the same chapel. It is a content-based restriction on the free exercise of religion, and it is unconstitutional.”

North State Journal caught up with Ford at yesterday’s ReOpen NC protest, the fifth such protest in as many weeks. He made his thoughts clear, “Our freedoms are being infringed and it’s time to take a stand and get back to work and back to worship.”

“We believe it is time to reopen church and business and people want to get back to church and back to work,” said Ford. “That’s why I am here and I want to support everyone that is involved in that.”

When asked about the impending lawsuit against Cooper over his order’s treatment and restrictions on worship, Ford said it was a good thing, adding, “Whatever it takes.”

“I think it’s good because people want to go back into their houses of worship,” said Ford, who added he’s talked to a number of pastors who are planning to resume services.

Ford said many pastors are of the mind that if the governor wants to, he can send law enforcement to “come and get us.” He added that most every sheriff he has talked to says they’re not going to arrest people for shopping much less going to church.

Serious questions about data transparency have been posed for weeks by lawmakers and near the end of April, access to death certificates by press had been temporarily blocked by the Cooper administration.

“That’s been ludicrous,” Ford said about access to the death certificates. He also said N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) just this week released recovery numbers for over a month. Lawmakers had been pushing for that data for over a month, Ford said.

“Our county and other counties have been reporting those [recovery numbers] to the state every day and they [NCDHHS] were not releasing them because it doesn’t go along with their narratives,” said Ford.

Ford was frank about the governor’s phase plan and the devastating impact it is having on businesses in the state.

“If he was wise, he’d get to stage two and three, like, yesterday,” said Ford. “Because all of these “phases” are just killing businesses.”

Ford has two daughters who are unable to work under the governor’s plan. One daughter does nails and the other does hair.

“They’re dying,” Ford said. “Their salons are dying. Some of them are not going to open back up. Some of them are going to have to build their business back up from scratch like it was when they first got out of school and started.”

“We have a restaurant in Rowan County that’s been in business 65 years and they don’t think they are going to reopen,” said Ford. “And that is just sad. Some of these businesses just will not make it back. Some of the churches we’ve already heard from – they won’t make it back from this.”

When it comes to the data, accuracy and transparency many times seems to depend on the source. Local health department data in the state more often than not seems to outpace and outmatch NCDHHS’ on both accounts.

Ford said that in Rowan County when filtering out congregate living settings, there has one death so far, a person in their 90s with underlying health issues.

“All life is important and precious, I understand that, but just facts will prove that we’ve gone overboard on this,” said Ford.

The data comparison between NCDHHS and Rowan’s Department of Public Health shows how disparities arise.

NCDHHS’s county map on May 12 listed 547 cases and 25 deaths for Rowan County. Digging deeper, NCDHHS’ congregate living report for the same date shows that those 25 deaths come from just two facilities with outbreaks in two others.

When looking at the Rowan County Health Department’s data hub for the same date, there are 26 deaths listed. The bulk of the county’s positives are located in two adjacent zip codes: 224 in 28147 and 120 in 28144.

Those two zip codes are where the four congregate facilities are located in the NCDHHS report.

The Rowan data also lists 247 active positive cases and 219 recovered cases. As of May 13, Rowan County has tested 2,895 people. 2,403 (83%) of those tests were negative.

N.C. State Veterans Home in Salisbury, which has 7 deaths with 21 cases for residents and 6 for staffers, is located in 28144.

The three others are located in 28147. The Citadel Salisbury has 44 staff cases, 113 resident cases and 18 deaths. The Laurels of Salisbury has one staff case, one resident case and no deaths. Liberty Commons Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center has two staff and four residents testing positive.

About A.P. Dillon 1214 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_