The Central Bible Baptist Church in New York held a drive-in service with around 40 members. The church reluctantly had to discontinue its worship after being threatened by the Massena Police Department that a fine of up to $1,000 would be imposed. On Friday they challenged the claim that drive-in services violate Gov. Andrew Cuomo's stay-at-home order amid the pandemic.
Pastor Samson Ryman, who leads the church in upstate New York held its first drive-in service on May 3rd with 23 attendees in 18 vehicles. The next day the pastor received an informal cease-and-desist issued by the police.
Ryman got permission from state and local officials before holding service. He said, "I was kind of shocked by that. We're not trying to be rebellious. We are just trying to be safe and reach our community with the gospel of Jesus Christ in these difficult times when people are having anxiety, worry, different mental concerns, and they want to get some spiritual help, through the word of God, some hope, and I believe we can do that safely with a drive-in."
Pastor Ryman conducted the service from a porch attached to the church and had attendees drive to the church and park in the parking lot, remaining in their vehicles, listening on an FM radio transmitter, windows up. At all times during the service, Ryman remained well over 6 feet from other church attendees.
The pastor contacted the Rutherford Institute, a national, nonprofit civil liberties organization and they wrote letters to Police Chief Adam J. Love on Friday on behalf of the church, strongly advising to withdraw the treat to enforce the Executive Orders' restrictions on gatherings to Central Bible Baptist Church's drive-n services and allow them to proceed as planned.
The letter said, "You are mistaken in your assertion that church 'drive-in' worship services are prohibited under New York's current emergency orders and could result in fines."
"Although federal and state governments have adopted specific restrictive measures in an effort to decelerate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the current public health situation has not resulted in the suspension of fundamental constitutional rights such as religious freedom, freedom of speech and the right of assembly." The Rutherford added, "threats ... are grounded in a misunderstanding of the law and a misapplication of the Governor's Executive Orders, which severely chills their exercise of the fundamental right to practice their religion."
Ryman said, "We appreciate our police force here. We appreciate our mayor and we're praying for him and the decisions he makes and for our officers. We just want to be able to give people hope."