Citing Floyd Protests, Officials Call for Churches to Open

Say residents need place “to help us heal” from trauma

Update (June 6): Gov. Andrew Cuomo said places of worship will be permitted to reopen during Phase 2 with 25 percent occupancy and all social distancing protocols in place.

A group of local and county officials, including Mayor Lee Kyriacou of Beacon, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell, this week urged New York State to allow religious organizations to reopen weeks ahead of schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic “to help us heal” from the trauma of violent protests that have followed the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd while in police custody.

The officials called on Monday (June 1) for churches, synagogues and mosques to be allowed to hold services at 25 percent capacity. The Mid-Hudson Region, which includes Dutchess and Putnam counties, is in Phase 1 of a four-phase reopening plan; houses of worship are included in Phase 4 of the reopening plan, along with concert halls and stadiums.

On May 14, during an appearance in Syracuse, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the ban on services “has nothing to do with religion. It’s the gathering…. The last thing you want is 100, 200, people in close proximity.”

A week later, the state said it would allow, with restrictions in place, religious gatherings of no more than 10 people, along with unlimited attendance at drive-in and parking-lot services.

After the New York Civil Liberties Union filed suit, calling the order unconstitutional because it applied only to religious organizations and Memorial Day observations, on May 22 Cuomo issued a new order allowing gatherings of up to 10 people “for any lawful purpose or reason” in any part of the state as long as social-distancing is maintained.

In their June 1 statement, the local and county officials argued that religious organizations should be allowed to hold services “to help address the pent-up anger, anguish and tensions” in response to Floyd’s death.

“We acknowledge the urgent need to address injustice wherever it resides in America, including right here in our own communities,” the statement said. “As Gov. Cuomo himself said, although we do not condone violence, theft and property destruction, we understand the anger and grief being expressed as a result of this senseless killing. It could not happen at a worse time as people have been cooped up in their homes as we shelter in place to stem the transmission of a vicious and deadly virus.

“Our churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of faith need to be available for neighbors, leaders and community to come together,” they wrote. “And the personal interaction that occurs in faith communities can prove invaluable.”

Opening churches “can be a powerful sign and send a strong message to the people of America that we are still one nation, indivisible, and that we seek liberty and justice for all. Open the doors to our houses of faith — if only with limited capacity — to help us heal. Stay safe. Be well. We are all in this together.”

Along with Kyriacou, Molinaro and Odell, the statement was signed by the county executives of Orange, Ulster and Rockland counties and the mayors of Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh and Port Jervis.

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