Health officials plead Butler Co. church to halt mass gatherings. Is a court battle next?
BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio (FOX19) - The Butler County Public Health District has asked Solid Rock Church to stop holding mass gatherings after videos published by the church show it continuing services without practicing social distancing.
The letter, issued Friday by Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer, says the health district has received multiple complaints from the community regarding the church’s “continuation of large services” at its North Campus, located in Lebanon.
The letter continues: “While we understand a church is exempt from the Mass-Gathering and Stay-at-Home (...) orders issued by Ohio Department of Health, Butler County Public Health officials highly encourage Solid Rock Church discontinue holding large mass gatherings and practice social distancing.
“Bringing together a large number of people during a pandemic increases the pace at which the virus spreads, overwhelming our hospital systems and posing a significant risk to members within the congregation.”
Bailer also notes most religious institutions in the state continued to “meet their congregation’s spiritual fulfillment” through digital sermons.
Video from the church published March 22 showing in-person services caused the initial backlash.
Video showing a new service was published March 29, two days after the post date on Bailer’s request letter.
A message on Solid Rock’s website says:
"As Christians, we are charged by Jesus Christ to obey the laws of our land. Therefore, if the laws of our nation should ever change with respect to our First Amendment right to assemble, thereby restricting us from having our church doors open, we will willingly comply.
“If there has ever been a time in the history of our world when we all need God’s help, it is now. For that reason, we believe that the doors of Solid Rock Church should remain open. It is in these times of crisis that the church should play a critical role as a place of refuge... a place where anyone can come to pray, to worship and to find healing and hope.”
The first video, published March 22, shows a Solid Rock church service in which social distancing is not practiced and Pastor Darlene Bishop Driscoll, speaking to the congregation, openly flouts its premise.
“We know we’re not supposed to be but six feet apart,” she said, “but Lord I thank you, that might be for the world we’re not a part of.”
The Ohio Revised Code indicates health officials have would have legal recourse against the church if the state’s Stay-at-Home applied to religious institutions, but it does not.
The relevant ORC section reads:
“The director of health, the board of health of a general or city health district, or any person charged with enforcing the rules of the department of health (...) may petition the court of common pleas for injunctive or other appropriate relief requiring any person violating a rule adopted by or any order issued by the director of health under this chapter to comply with such rule or order. The court of common pleas of the county in which the offense is alleged to be occurring may grant such injunctive or other appropriate relief as the equities of the case require."
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