Pastor Ronald Holmes (left) leads a drive-up church service to celebrate Pentecost Sunday at Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church in Bloomfield Sunday. The church has been holding services virtually since the COVID-19 pandemic and this was their first drive-up service to maintain social distancing. “It’s not normal to have church outside on a Sunday morning,” he told those in attendance, “but it is normal to have church!” Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

I am reaching out to you, Gov. Ned Lamont, and copying the press, because of the unprecedented steps that you are taking to limit the First Amendment rights of houses of worship in Connecticut through authorizing an Executive Order you have said will come from you giving the Commissioner of CT DECD David Lehman. Executive Order authority over Houses of Worship in Connecticut.  Members of the CT Faith Leaders Collaborative have met with you and your representatives after seeking an audience with you for several weeks.  In fact, the core of the document that you released May 29 has been presented to your team by the CFLC.

The Rev. Carl McCluster

>While several key points and suggestions have been left out of your final document, which has also not been fully vetted by Connecticut legislative leadership, your over reach through placing inequitable restrictions on the exercise of citizens rights to worship is unacceptable.  Through taking a “one size fits all” approach to the challenges that faith communities face you have, although informed of the prejudices, placed an unfair and unconstitutional restriction on the opportunity for many members of varied faith communities in our state to safely exercise their right to assemble and worship.

While there are many examples of this, one is cemented in my memory.  When asked how many citizens, practicing 20 foot social distancing, with face masks and all other sanitation, sterilization and other recommended protocol in place could attend a worship experience if we rented the UConn Husky Stadium in East Hartford, which seats  more than 30,000 people, we were told that only 100 could attend.  This typifies the absurd lack of consideration for our desire to exercise our Constitutionally and God-given right to worship here in the Constitution State.

While many other examples abound and the implications for your actions echo as a stark reminder of how, under the guise of ‘safety’ citizens of many countries have faced genocide at the hand of oppressive regimes.  “Of course that cannot happen in America” some will say, as they did in Germany, Bosnia, Rwanda 10 years before those countries suffered terrible tragedy.  These extreme examples began when citizens and sometimes well meaning legislators, ignored the fact that they would not always be at the helm and that their precedents in ignoring their own constitutions and laws became gateways to terrible events.

I urge you to reconvene the Connecticut state legislature, along with representatives of the faith community and the Judicial Branch of the state of Connecticut to reconsider your proposed actions.

To date houses of worship in Connecticut, including the Shiloh Baptist Church of Bridgeport, where I have served for 26 years as Senior Pastor, have exercised sound judgement in temporarily closing their facilities and providing both spiritual and community services from places as diverse as the sidewalks of their cities to the trunks of their cars.  We have exercised the restraint, decorum and scientific sensibility so as not to have been the source of any COVID-19 outbreak since full information regarding the dangers have been made know.  We, of all people, care about those who worship in our facilities and the millions of residents who benefit from the myriad community services that we provide.

I ask that we have the respect of continuing to do so in an agreed upon (you, the legislature and the faith community) manner, adopting the guideline the CFLC initiated when we approached you to address these issues, unless or until there is reason to turn in another direction.  If that time arises, those of us who approached you to set guidelines will support additional appropriate alternatives for insuring continued safety of our citizenry, within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution and legitimately established laws of our dear Connecticut.

The Rev. Carl McCluster is Senior Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Bridgeport.

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