A guidance document from Empire State Development outlines that in-person church gatherings “of any size,” including house church meetings, are “canceled or postponed,” as per an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, until the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
“Pursuant to Executive Order 202.10, all non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reasons (e.g. worship services, parties, celebrations, or other social events) are canceled or postponed,” a webpage providing guidance on Executive Order 202.6 reads. “Congregate services within houses of worship are prohibited.” “Houses of worship may only be used by individuals and only where appropriate social distancing of, at least, six feet between people can be maintained,” it continues. “Further, individuals should not gather in houses of worship, homes, or other locations for religious services until the end of this public health emergency.” The guidance recommends rather “replacing in-person gatherings with virtual services, such as phone or conference calls, video-conference calls, or online streaming.” Cuomo’s March 23 order, “Continuing Temporary Suspension and Modification of Laws Relating to the Disaster Emergency,” simply stated in one section at the conclusion, “Non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason (e.g. parties, celebrations or other social events) are canceled or postponed at this time.” The Empire State Development webpage elaborated on how to interpret the prohibition on “non-essential gatherings.” The Christian organization New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, while stating that it supports not meeting in large groups at this time, lamented the guidance in a blog post, opining that it “places [an] excessive burden upon religious expression.” It finds the prohibition on house church meetings, which by definition are small gatherings that involve participation by friends and extended family outside the immediate household, to be over-the-top. “When the government banned public gatherings […]