DeWine teases new order as Butler Co. church continues to hold in-person services

Updated: Apr. 1, 2020 at 11:01 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - The pastor of a Butler County church says he’s following the Bible’s orders by refusing to halt in-person services during Ohio’s statewide Stay-at-Home order.

Lawrence Bishop II of Solid Rock Church in Lebanon says the Bible encourages assembly and worship and that God is most needed during this time of crisis.

That, Bishop says, is why the church plans to keep its doors open, though he adds it is encouraging social distancing and telling its congregants not to shake hands.

The services are also streamed online, according to Bishop, giving people the option to watch at home.

But the streaming platform did not dissuade dozens from attending an in-person service Tuesday night.

Moreover the church’s instructions that people with symptoms not attend disregards the fundamental danger posed by COVID-19 — that is, a-symptomatic carriers can still spread the disease.

Churches are currently exempt from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s Stay-at-Home order, but most have stopped holding in-person services. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati, for example, is live-streaming daily and weekend Masses from the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains.

Another Tri-State church held a drive-thru prayer event Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Solid Rock Church continues to hold out, with videos gaining infamy online showing in-person services last week and the week before.

The first video, published March 22, shows a Solid Rock Church service in which social distancing is not practiced, while 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.”

Butler County officials sought to pressure the church into ceasing its mass gatherings last Friday with a letter issued by Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer.

The letter says the health district has received multiple complaints from the community regarding the church’s “continuation of large services."

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.”

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.

That is where DeWine could step in.

Wednesday, the governor was asked about churches that are still gathering for services. While answering that question, he remarked a new order would be signed to address the matter.

“It is not a Christian thing to do," DeWine said. "It is not in the Judeo-Christian tradition to hurt people. I’m sure no one intends to do that, but by bringing people together, you’re risking their health, you are risking your health, you are risking total strangers health.”

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