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‘You don’t mess with the church’: Churches react after Mecklenburg County voted to mandate masks inside religious services

Commissioners narrowly passed an amendment to the indoor mask mandate to include religious settings on Wednesday in a 5 to 4 vote.
Myers Park United Methodist Church already requires masks.
Myers Park United Methodist Church already requires masks.(Caroline Hicks)
Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 6:01 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Mecklenburg County Commissioners are making a controversial move to require masks during church services.

Commissioners narrowly passed an amendment to the indoor mask mandate to include religious settings on Wednesday in a 5 to 4 vote.

Commissioner At-Large Leigh Altman proposed the amendment, while Chairman George Dunlap called it a “slippery slope” and the potential threat of the separation of church and state.

Many churches in Mecklenburg County, like Myers Park United Methodist Church, are already requiring masks indoors.

Other churches, including The Park Church, are still only worshipping virtually.

Meanwhile, leaders of at least one local church, called Freedom House Church, are already announcing they will not follow this mandate under any circumstances.

As it’s currently written, the Mecklenburg County mask mandate exempts worship, religious, spiritual gatherings, funeral ceremonies and wedding ceremonies.

The vote by county commissioners removes that exemption.

The new mask mandate in religious settings goes into effect on Wednesday, September 22nd.

Senior Pastor James Howell says the mask requirement at Myers Park United Methodist Church will continue.

“Christians are called to be good citizens,” Howell said. “We’re not smarter than anybody else, we’re not more immune to disease than anybody else. Christians coming to church obey the laws of the land, we drive on the right side of the road, we don’t drink and drive, we’re good citizens.”

Commissioners are concerned over super spreader events.

In 2020, in-person services held by the United House of Prayer for all People led to more than 200 covid cases and at least 12 deaths.

Freedom House Church pastor Penny Maxwell posted a video to her public Instagram page announcing that they will not be following the mandate.

“We will not, n-o-t, be requiring anybody at Freedom House to be wearing a mask,” she said. “I think Mecklenburg County is messing with the wrong people. You don’t mess with the church.”

She goes on to say their lawyers “are ready to go.”

A spokesperson for Freedom House sent WBTV the following statement:

CHARLOTTE – A message from our Senior Pastors in light of governmental overreach.

1. Freedom House believes the church is essential and will under no circumstances be closing our doors at any time. Online church is not a substitute for believers gathering together.

2. Freedom House believes you can decide for yourself if you wear a mask or not. Although the overwhelming majority of our church does not wear them, it is your decision.

3. Freedom House does not believe in living in fear. We will continue to do life with other believers; we believe the Word of God is powerful and true.

4. Freedom House believes in Romans 13, but we will not allow man’s laws to be higher than God’s laws. Period.

5. Freedom House will not nor will it ever divide people out based upon their vaccination status, nor will we tell you what decisions you need to make regarding your family’s health.

In a world that seems like it’s devoid of godly leadership, we are letting you know where we are headed. The Church has always been God’s Plan A and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Freedom House will not be backing down or relenting.

But Howell believes when it comes to science and religion, there does not have to be an either or.

“We have seven doctors in our church who deal with covid everyday and we trust them to give us guidance,” he said. “People trust them. You trust your doctor, you have to. You don’t have an opinion that’s smarter than your doctor if you have cancer or not, you follow your doctor’s advice. Our doctors say wear a mask.”

According to a county spokesperson, the official, revised Public Health Rule public notice will be published in the Charlotte Observer on Sunday, September 12, 2021 and then will go into effect on Wednesday, September 22, 2021.

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