National Christian leaders are concerned about the threatening assertion from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio that churches and synagogues will be "permanently closed" if they violated the coronavirus stay-at-home order at a March 27 press briefing.
The Democrat mayor singled out synagogues and churches saying he would shut them down if they held in-person services.
"[Law enforcement] will inform them they need to stop the services and disperse," de Blasio said. "If that does not happen, they will take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently."
"It's the last thing I would like to do because I understand how important people's faiths are to them and we need our faiths in this time of crisis. But we do not need gatherings that will endanger people," de Blasio argued. "No faith tradition endorses anything that endangers the members of that faith."
His remarks were days before Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne in Florida was arrested at his home Monday after holding two services Sunday at his Tampa church, charged with "unlawful assembly" and "violation of public health emergency order."
Liberty Counsel, the Christian conservative legal group is representing Howard-Browne, the leader of Revival International Ministries and The River at Tampa Bay Church in Tampa. Liberty Counsel gained media attention in 2015 when it defended Kentucky clerk Kim Davis after she was jailed for refusing to provide gay marriage licenses, Christian post noted.
"The fact is that churches, including our client The River Church of Tampa, Florida, can and are obeying safety guidelines ... but the enemy wants our churches shut down," Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver said in a statement.
"Churches have a First Amendment right to exist and assemble, but the commercial businesses do not," the Liberty Counsel release argues. "The Home Depots in Hillsborough County look like they're giving out free merchandise. They're packed with people. Truckloads are arriving to deliver such 'essential items' as potted plants. There is no six-foot separation and there is no special effort at all to keep people safe. Yet, The River at Tampa Bay Church spent $100,000 on special equipment and enforced a six-foot separation throughout the sanctuary and lobby."
National Christian leaders and evangelicals concern at the mayor's comments as it would not be helpful for bringing collaboration of the government and the church to stem the coronavirus outbreak.
"This type of religious hostility is what fuels non-compliance because it reveals a motive beyond public safety," Tony Perkins, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and president of the Christian conservative activist organization Family Research Council, criticized de Blasio's comments on Twitter.
"De Blasio's incendiary & unconstitutional threat to permanently shut down churches and synagogues must be retracted or corrected if it was a misstatement," Perkins, who had previously urged church to keep social-distancing by not having in-person services.
Ronnie Floyd, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, called de Blasio's remarks a "matter of great concern."
"The First Amendment states that there should be no law that prohibits the free exercise of religion and constitutional protections are unchanged by current circumstances," Floyd, the former pastor of Cross Church in Arkansas and former SBC president, said in a statement to Fox News.
"In times like these, we must insist that government officials put aside political, ideological and religious differences and work together for the common good," nydailynews reported.
"After all, faith helps us weather times like these, and in countless denominations, churches have found resourceful ways to continue to preach and live out the Gospel, spreading love and hope to their communities and to those most in need, without physically gathering."