Howard County Maryland and the Devil in the Religious Service Details
As local municipalities work towards implementing their respective governor’s re-opening guidelines, Howard County, Maryland, raised some eyebrows with theirs, specifically the rather detailed orders for religious services:
Religious Institutions. Religious institutions may resume services subject to the following conditions, which apply to churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, interfaith centers, and any other space, including rented space, where religious or faith gatherings are held:
1. Indoor religious gatherings are limited to no more than ten people.
2. Outdoor religious gatherings of up to 250 people are allowed. Outdoor services may be held on any outdoor space the religious institution owns, rents, or reserves for use.
3. All attendees at either indoor or outdoor services must maintain appropriate social distancing of six feet and wear face masks or facial coverings at all times.
4. There shall be no consumption of food or beverage of any kind before, during, or after religious services, including food or beverage that would typically be consumed as part of a religious service.
5. Collection plates or receptacles may not be passed to or between attendees.
6. There should be no hand shaking or other physical contact between congregants before, during, or after religious services. Attendees shall not congregate with other attendees on the property where religious services are being held before or after services. Family members or those who live in the same household or who attend a service together in the same vehicle may be closer than six feet apart but shall remain at least six feet apart from any other persons or family groups.
7. Singing is permitted, but not recommended. If singing takes place, only the choir or religious leaders may sing. Any person singing without a mask or facial covering must maintain a 12-foot distance from other persons, including religious leaders, other singers, or the congregation.
8. Outdoor or drive-in services may be conducted with attendees remaining in their vehicles. If utilizing parking lots for either holding for religious services or for parking for services held elsewhere on the premises, religious institutions shall ensure there is adequate parking available.
9. All high touch areas, (including benches, chairs, etc.) must be cleaned and decontaminated after every service.
10. Religious institutions are encouraged to follow the guidelines issued by Governor Hogan.
Catholics, especially, cried foul immediately:
“There shall be no consumption of food or beverage of any kind before, during, or after religious services, including food or beverage that would typically be consumed as part of a religious service,” the order says in a section delineating norms and restrictions on religious services.
The consumption of the consecrated species at Mass, at least by the celebrant, is an integral part of the Eucharistic rite. Rules prohibiting even the celebrating priest from receiving the Eucharist would ban the licit celebration of Mass by any priest.
CNA asked the Howard County public affairs office to comment on how the rule aligns with First Amendment religious freedom and free exercise rights.
Howard County spokesman Scott Peterson told CNA in a statement that “Howard County has not fully implemented Phase 1 of Reopening. We continue to do an incremental rollout based on health and safety guidelines, analysis of data and metrics specific to Howard County and in consultation with our local Health Department.”
“With this said,” Peterson added, “we continue to get stakeholder feedback in order to fully reopen to Phase 1.”
The executive order also limits attendance at indoor worship spaces to 10 people or fewer, limits outdoor services to 250 socially-distanced people wearing masks, forbids the passing of collection plates, and bans handshakes and physical contact between worshippers.
In contrast to the 10-person limit for churches, establishments listed in the order that do not host religious services are permitted to operate at 50% capacity.