MIAMI (CBSMiami) – As the safer-at-home order for Florida begins Thursday night, there is one non-essential area the governor is not forcing to close: houses of worship.
In his daily coronavirus briefing, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he believes churches and synagogues are serving an important role.
That said, the governor leaves it to the cities and counties to decide whether they can be open.
“I think that the government has the authority to close the church. I’m certainly not going to do that. We got with the churches and the synagogues very early and I said, ‘In times like this I think what you guys are doing is very important.’ But we asked that you do it in a way that is going to be conducive to the overall mission.”
Gov. DeSantis suggested that religious leaders be allowed to use their own judgement to ensure social distancing protocols are followed, as coronavirus cases continue to climb in Florida.
“I think people are going to want to have access to religious services. Whether its online or socially, more distant type of services, but to have that available I think is very important,” he said.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber has been asking religious organizations not to assemble for more than a week now.
“Can you stop a synagogue or a church from operating right now?” CBS4’s David Sutta asked him.
“I think we can. I think it’s well within our emergency powers to stop gatherings of people if they are going to engage others they do not even know,” he said.
But the city’s large orthodox population it has proven difficult.
“Look, we are not going to raid a home and arrest a bunch of people praying. But we are certainly going to project to them how terrible it is to put not just yourselves, or your children, or your parents, but people you do not even know in your own community at risk,” Gelber said. “This is a real thing. You just have to look at New York which has a very, very deep and broad orthodox community.”
Not only has New York’s orthodox community been hit hard by the virus, it lost a well-respected priest this week as well.
Meanwhile, some religious leaders in Florida have pressed on. One was even arrested for it.
Mayor Gelber reiterated to Sutta that religion over lives will not be tolerated.
“I think just because you are expressing a First Amendment right, which clearly it is, that you have a right to infect people with a deadly virus. I just don’t think that will go,” he said.
With Easter and Passover approaching, this is a very sensitive time for this all to be happening. Just like everything else, it appears the religious leaders may be leaning on technology to deliver this year’s services.