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Not all RI houses of worship are ready to open. And a legal challenge.

Updated: May 27th:

This is an updated story from the day President Trump announced that houses of worship could open immediately. In RI, they are sent to be able to open on May 30th.

Declaring houses of worship throughout America “essential”, President Trump made a surprise appearance at the White House press room at approximately 1:30pm, Friday.

President Trump’s statement:

Houses of worship are to open immediately, and President Trump ordered Governors to allow them to do so. They are “essential to American life during COVID-19”.

“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, this weekend. If they don’t do it I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less,” President Trump said. After the brief statement, he left the room, having taken no questions.

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Governor Raimondo responds to the President’s statement:

Governor Raimondo was asked at her regular 1pm address at the Veterans Auditorium about this. She had not heard this statement because it happened simultaneous to her presentation. Her response was that she would consult with her legal counsel, but that she believed there was not a way for the President to override a Governor on this issue, and that she would keep to the plan to allow houses of worship to open, with restrictions, on May 30th.

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Bishop Tobin’s response to the church opening issue:

Responding to a query from RINewsToday to the Diocese of Providence, we received this response from Bishop Thomas Tobin:

“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence has a comprehensive plan already in place for the return to public worship and our plans have not changed. Public worship in the diocese will resume on the weekend of May 30/31. Some of our parishes may need this additional time to prepare their churches under the newly released guidelines.”

More from Bishop Tobin (5/26/20): As we prepare to re-open churches this weekend, a reminder that no one is required to attend Mass. The dispensation is still in effect. And older folks, and those with health issues, are strongly urged, please, not to attend Mass right now-for their safety and that of others.

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Temple Beth-El, East Side of Providence

Rabbi Sarah Mack, Temple Beth-El

“I think it is unlikely we’ll open for worship until July,” explained Temple Beth-El Rabbi Sarah Mack. Mack said they want to make sure they are prepared, and the congregation too feels safe.

“I’m not getting a tremendous amount of pressure from any of my congregants,” explained Mack. Templ Beth El has ordered plexiglass and sanitizers.

Their website says, While our building remains closed in response to the Coronoavirus crisis, our community continues to celebrate and congregate virtually. Join us for prayer, learning and community online.

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First Baptist Church in America, Providence

Rev. Jamie P. Washam, pastor

“Many of our members and staff are in high-risk categories. Care for the well-being of the community is our priority. For now, we will continue to plan for what we will look like on the other side of this, stay apprised of health guidelines, and maintain our online services.” – The Rev. Jamie P. Washam, pastor

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Masjid Al-Islam, North Smithfield

Reopening 05/29/20 – Phase two Mosques will be allowed to open for 25% capacity. Based on the guidelines of phase 2, Masjid Al Islam will open its doors for everyone starting this Friday with reduced capacity.
Below are some important guidelines for anyone coming to the Masjid:
1- Only first 100 people will be allowed in the Masjid at a time. This includes men and women.
2- Everyone is required to wear a mask before entering the Masjid and remain with the mask in the Masjid at all times.
3- Maintain social distance from others.
4- No handshaking
5- No hugging
6- Everyone’s temperature will be checked before entering the Masjid. If your temperature is 100 or above, you will be denied entry.
7- Anyone with flu like symptoms will not be allowed.
8- Offer your Prayer and leave immediately afterwards. Do not hang around unnecessarily inside the building.
9- Maintain social distance in shoes area.
10- If you are covid positive or in quarantine, please do not enter the Masjid.

Mufti Ikram Ul Haq”, faith leader of the Masjid.

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First Unitarian Church of Providence

We will not be opening soon. Our offerings are always different in the summer having lay led worship. There will be a task force to make decisions with how we move forward. A large part of our population is in a high risk category. Thank you!

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Ebenezer Baptist Church, Providence

Masses have been online and will move to live again on Sunday, May 31st with 8am and 11am – bring masks…

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From the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity, 5/26/20:

Relaxed Church Regulations Are Still Likely Unconstitutional Burdens Churches With Special Restrictions Not Imposed Elsewhere

One day after America celebrated Memorial Day to honor those who sacrificed for our freedoms, including religious liberty, the Flanders Legal Center for Freedom issued an open letter to Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo urging her to rescind existing orders and to amend any contemplated orders and regulations that discriminate against churches and church-goers.

To avoid a potential legal challenge to the State, the letter from the Flanders Legal Center for Freedom, an initiative of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, advises that the religious community must be provided with the same opportunities to safely assemble (and worship) that are provided to secular entities.

“Your … recent public statements that indoor restaurants and other secular venues may re-open at up to 50% of their capacity, while churches and other faith-based venues may only re-open at a 25% capacity … are unconstitutional,” writes Robert G. Flanders, author of the letter and chairman of the legal center. “Today, we call on you to amend your orders to recognize the essential services provided by our churches.”

Earlier this month, the Flanders Legal Center published a legal analysis addressing the many legal limits of the Governor’s emergency powers under the law.Flanders, a board member of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, is a practicing attorney and former Associate Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The legal center’s volunteer team is also composed of attorneys Matthew Fabisch, Richard MacAdams, and Patrick Reynolds.

The nonpartisan Flanders Legal Center expects to provide ongoing legal commentary, submit friend of the court briefs, and potentially engage in select litigation cases.

Developing Story…

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