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'We're concerned that our First Amendment rights are being trampled underfoot' | Winston-Salem pastor files lawsuit against Governor Cooper

The lawsuit alleges the Governor's executive orders preventing gatherings of more than ten people violate the Constitution.

Almost a full week into Phase 1 of Governor Roy Cooper's reopening plan, some religious leaders in our state are suing the Governor over his executive order.

They say the rules around church services violate the Constitution, and they should be allowed to worship indoors.

During the coronavirus pandemic, churches and houses of worship have had to adapt - from streaming services online to holding drive-in services in the parking lot. 

While many say they understand the Governor's plea to keep services remote or outside, others - like Pastor Ronnie Baity - believe this is an infringement on their rights. 

"The greatest institution in America has been put on ice," said Baity at a press conference in Raleigh Thursday, "It's time that we go back, under the right sanitary conditions."

Those strong feelings have led to a lawsuit against the Governor, filed by Baity and his religious organization Return America. The pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem believes the executive order banning indoor gatherings of more than 10 people violates the first amendment. 

"The church house is not an incubator for the disease. It's everywhere. And we believe that as we exercise these sanitary conditions that our chances here are no worse than they are at Walmart," he said in an interview Thursday. 

"You've got to follow your conscience. You've got to do what you think is best for you," he said, "That's precisely what we are doing. We are concerned that our First Amendment rights are being trampled underfoot."

Meantime, Governor Cooper urged congregations to consider whether indoor services are the right thing to do right now.

"We need North Carolinians to keep doing what they know protects them from this pandemic," he said in a press conference. 

Over at Lebanon Baptist Church in Greensboro, Pastor Matt Smith says that means respecting the state's orders. 

Last weekend, his church held Sunday service in the parking lot and live-streamed it for folks at home.

"We haven’t felt the need to really press the issue at this point," he said, "We feel like a big part of church is that we gather together, and we want to do that as soon as we possibly can. We’re doing it in the best ways that we can right now.

"But we believe the church is much more than that. We believe the church has continued to be for these past several weeks - to be alive and well and continue to be the hands and feet of Christ in our community."

This Sunday, Pastor Smith says they're holding service on the ball field at Lebanon Baptist. 

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