Gov. Tim Walz announced Saturday that he would lift his restrictions on religious services and allow all places of worship to open for larger groups beginning Wednesday.
The announcement comes after Catholic and Lutheran leaders in the state said they would reopen their churches this week, with or without the governor’s blessing. The governor recently issued guidelines allowing bars and restaurants to host up to 50 people for outdoor dining, but made no mention of religious services.
An updated order from the governor issued Saturday lifts the 10-person cap on church services. Under the new guidelines, places of worship are required to limit occupancy to 25 percent “of the normal occupant capacity as determined by the fire marshal, with a maximum of 250 people in a single self-contained space.”
“We are grateful that Gov. Walz entered into respectful dialogue with us, recognized the spiritual needs of our faithful, and agreed that it is possible to resume worship services safely and responsibly,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis (pictured above) said in a press release.
Faith leaders were assisted by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a legal non-profit, in their plans to reopen. With Saturday’s announcement, Becket said only eight states “continue to impose facially unequal treatment on religious worship during the reopening process.”
“Hopefully, our experience of constructive dialogue can serve as a roadmap for churches across the country suffering from similar inequities, whether intended or unintended, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful that Becket and Sidley Austin LLP helped us to guard our first freedom – religious freedom – so that Catholics can receive the Eucharist and be strengthened in their response to the challenges of this trying time,” Hebda added.
Walz’s Saturday announcement was issued a day after President Donald Trump declared all places of worship “essential” and threatened to override governors who don’t comply.
“Good things happen when people of faith stand up for their rights,” said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. “Gov. Walz is to be commended for seeing the light. Minnesota is setting an example by recognizing the importance of giving equal treatment to churches and other houses of worship, and that worship services can be conducted safely, cooperatively, and responsibly. Other closed-church states are on notice.”
Becket said the governor returned to the negotiating table Wednesday after faith leaders announced their plans to act in defiance of his executive orders. Prior to Wednesday, Hebda said Walz had not “engaged in dialogue” on a plan for reopening churches.
“We are so pleased that Minnesota decided to reopen churches, without needing to resort to legal action. We will remain prayerful and watchful, so that this agreement is just the beginning of a return to full, in-person worship,” said Rev. Dr. Lucas Woodford, president of the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
The governor’s full Saturday press conference can be watched below:
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