Maryland's Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday moved from a statewide stay-at-home order to a safer-at-home public health advisory in the continuing fight against the coronavirus.
Part of the announcement said churches and houses of worship "may begin to safely hold religious services, at up to 50 percent capacity, with outdoor services strongly encouraged."
Good news for churches, right?
Well, that depends on where churches are located — because Hogan's reopening plan also "empowers individual jurisdictions to make decisions regarding the timing of reopenings."
And for Friendship Baptist Church in Baltimore City and Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk — where local officials are still prohibiting indoor religious services of more than 10 people — it was bad news.
The defiant ones
But both churches opened up anyway for services Sunday at 50% capacity in keeping with Hogan's directive but in direct defiance of local officials' mandates, WJZ-TV reported.
"We got a mayor saying we can only worship in our parking lots, which is ridiculous," Rev. Alvin Gwynn, pastor of Friendship Baptist, told the station in reference to Democratic Baltimore Mayor Jack Young, who's keeping the city under a stay-at-home order even though Hogan said restrictions could be loosened.
The first service at Friendship Baptist was held at 7:45 a.m. and the next one was scheduled for 10:45 a.m., WBAL-TV reported, which added that people were entering the church, but not many.
Gwynn also told WBAL that a police car parked in front of the church was meant to intimidate him and the attendees.
"The city has no legal standing," he added to the station. "What are they going to do? Have officers come and take body cameras and record you and then go back and talk to their attorneys to see what they can do with them or not? That's nothing but intimidation."
Baltimore pastor again defies stay-home order youtu.be
David Gibbs, legal counsel for Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk, Baltimore County, told WJZ: "If Walmart's open, it's time for the churches to be open."
He added to the station that while Hogan "opened churches back up, unbelievably your county has acted unconstitutionally."
Indeed Calvary Baptist also held Sunday services in defiance of the county's executive order that prohibits indoor services of more than 10 people.
And in the wake of all that, the church's pastor, Stacey Shiflett, went on video to describe "intimidating statements" in a "cease and desist" letter from Baltimore County's Department of Health and Human Services, which warned the church it "could be subject to a fine of up to $5,000" if further services were held that "violate Executive Order 2020-005."
Shiflett asked those watching the clip to pray for him and the church in light of the developments, saying that he and other church members have had it with not being able to gather.
"We're not satisfied with teleconferencing and Zoom services," he said. "We want to go back to church the way God intended, the way our Constitution intended."