Evers: Drive-in church services OK under ‘Safer at Home’

    Empty church
    Photo by Anna Gru on Unsplash

    Wisconsin religious groups who want to gather for drive-in services in which worshipers remain in their own cars may do so and not violate the state’s “Safer at Home” order, Gov. Tony Evers said Thursday.

    Gov. Tony Evers at a virtual news conference on 4/6/20 after he delays the April 7 election. (And before the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturns his order.)
    Gov. Tony Evers at a virtual news conference on 4/6/20

    The governor issued a statement after the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) sent Evers a letter Thursday that alleged local governments were telling churches they couldn’t hold drive-in services for Easter Sunday.

    Under the March 25 executive order, which requires state residents to stay home and non-essential business and other operations to stop except for minimum basic operations or working from home, religious institutions are included under “essential” operations.

    Neither the order nor the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) page of guidance for faith institutions includes specific language about drive-in services, whether permitting them or banning them.

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    Evers stated on Thursday that any religious gathering “must include fewer than 10 people at a time if it occurs in a room or confined space. Thus, churches and religious entities wishing to conduct services while still complying with the governor’s order may, for example, conduct services via:

    • “Parking lots with congregants staying in cars, avoiding person-to-person contact;
    • “Streaming online; and
    • “Having small gatherings (fewer than 10 people in each room) with multiple services.”

    The WILL letter to Evers earlier Thursday noted the upcoming Christian holy days of Good Friday and Easter, and asserted that “some local government officials are using the Order to ban Wisconsinites from responsibly observing these holy days.” The conservative-libertarian law firm has frequently sued the government on matters it has framed as infringements on religious liberty and individual rights.

    Asked for examples of such local government threats to religious institutions, a WILL representative pointed to a YouTube video from a Dane County pastor who said he was told his church could not hold a drive-in Easter service.

    Asked about the video’s claims, a Public Health Madison & Dane County spokesperson told Wisconsin Examiner: “We based our guidance on information from the WI Department of Health Services that was provided yesterday. The Governor’s press release [Thursday] clarified how that office would like the order interpreted.”

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.