‘We are not breaking the law by going to church’: S. Jersey pastor will resume Sunday services

Cherri Gregg
May 20, 2020 - 7:27 pm

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)  A South Jersey church is planning to reopen for in-person services this Sunday in defiance of a state mandate banning larger gatherings of people. Church leaders say they stand on solid legal ground.

“We are not breaking the law by going to church,” said Rev. Charles Clark, Jr., pastor of Solid Rock Baptist Church in Berlin, New Jersey. 

He and senior leadership of the church announced Wednesday that the facility would be open for services.

“The Constitution of the United States guarantees us freedom and liberty to worship our God. The people who are telling us we can’t go to church are breaking the Constitution of the United States,” he said. 

Church leaders say freedom of religion guarantees of the First Amendment protects their right to gather in worship, even though executive orders from Gov. Phil Murphy bans in-person gatherings of more than 10 people and limits operations of certain non-essential businesses.

In car gatherings, including worship services, are permitted.

“Churches are important and churches are essential,” Clark emphasized. 

Co-pastor Charles Clark III said they have deep cleaned the church, installed an air scrubber, will require masks and temperature checks of all attendees, will space families 6 feet apart, and even require social distance parking. They’ll also eliminate hymnals, the choir and other smaller gatherings.

“We’re going way above what has been asked of businesses with the way things are being handled right now,” Clark III said. 

Lawyers for Solid Rock wrote a letter to Murphy, asking for him to make houses of worship essential so they can reopen. 

Leaders say they are ready to sue if necessary. 

There is no word yet from Murphy’s office.

Related: Sign up for KYW Newsradio's daily newsletter for the latest on the coronavirus pandemic across the Philadelphia region.