‘It is not a Christian thing to do’: DeWine hints at action about large church gatherings, including at Solid Rock

The Butler County Health District says they do not have legal or constitutional authority to shut down churches and congregations who choose to gather despite state orders prohibiting mass gatherings. Solid Rock Church in Monroe has continued to hold worship services at their 903 Union Road church in Monroe. ED RICHTER/STAFF

An order could be coming from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine as early as Thursday that will address institutions that have not followed state’s “Stay at Home” and prohibiting mass gatherings orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

DeWine fielded two questions Wednesday during his daily press conference about churches and businesses that continue to operate or are not following state guidelines such as social distancing.

While what people do in their private lives is typically their own business, when it endangers others government has to take action, DeWine said. The governor said an order will come, but did not provide further details.

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“Any pastor who brings people together in close proximity to each other, a large group of people, is making a huge mistake,” DeWine said. “It is not a Christian thing to do. It is not in the Judeo-Christian tradition to hurt people.”

He noted that many other faiths and congregations have canceled in-person worship and have gone to remote or virtual services during the pandemic.

Many churches in Ohio have heeded the state’s “Stay at Home” that was issued March 23 by Dr. Amy Acton, state health director, and other public health orders to prevent the community spread of COVID-19.

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Erin Smiley, health promotion director for the Butler County General Health District, said the county health board “has no legal or constitutional authority to shut down churches and congregations that choose to ignore common sense and decency, while putting their own congregations in extreme jeopardy.”

She said the county health board sent a letter on March 24 and had a previous conversation with Solid Rock Church encouraging them to discontinue in person services. Health officials said those with concerns about Solid Rock Church remaining open should direct their concerns to the leadership of the church.

Solid Rock Church officials have continued their in-person services and also broadcasts their services live on the internet.

Butler County health district officials issued the letter because the Warren County church, located at 903 Union Road, is within the Monroe city limits, and the city is served by Butler County’s health department.

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The church issued a statement saying, “As Christians we are charged by Jesus Christ to obey the laws of our land. Therefore, if the laws of our nation should ever change with respect to our First Amendment right to assemble, thereby restricting us from having our church doors open, we will willingly comply.

“If there has ever been a time in the history of our world when we all need God’s help, it is now. For that reason, we believe that the doors of Solid Rock Church should remain open. It is in these times of crisis that the church should play a critical role as a place of refuge … A place where anyone can come to pray, to worship, and to find healing and hope.”

Since Acton’s March 23 order, the county health department received 3,786 calls from concerned citizens, employees and business owners about various issues.

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Health department officials said they are working through every call, and making the appropriate contact or conducting follow up as quickly as possible.

“We are taking every call seriously. We are investigating every complaint that comes in. We may not have the personnel to act on it that same day, but we will investigate it,” said Carrie Yeager, environmental health director.

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Smiley said the Stay at Home order gave local health departments the authority to make their own decisions and interpretations about businesses that were not specifically listed in the order. Local health districts will not always be in complete agreement and that is allowable. All businesses should cease to operate unless they are critical or essential. If the essential business cannot follow the above guidelines, which are numbers 13, 15 and 18 of the Director’s Order, the business should not be operating.

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