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Maryland State Police offer guidance for religious services; faith-related locations considered 'non-essential businesses'

Gov. Larry Hogan calls for moment of prayer on first Sunday since stay-at-home orders issued.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The coronavirus has sickened thousands of people in Maryland. While state and local officials work to limit the spread of the virus via stay-at-home orders, the governor and state police have offered some guidance for religious services heading into a week of religious holidays.

Gov. Larry Hogan issued a proclamation on Friday declaring a statewide moment of prayer at noon on Sunday, April 5.

"This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, and Wednesday is the beginning of Passover for our Jewish community," Hogan said.

"In the Christian faith, we use this time to remember and reflect on the sacrifice of one, for the redemption of many. Each and every one of us is now being asked to make sacrifices that may very well help save the lives of others. At noon this Sunday, I am calling on all Marylanders to join together at home, or wherever you are, in a moment of prayer or reflection for those we have lost, those who are sick, and the doctors, nurses, clinicians, health care workers, and first responders on the front lines around the clock working to bring about a new dawn in our history."

Maryland State Police reminds the faith community that churches, synagogues, mosques and temples are included as "non-essential businesses" and are required to close per Hogan's stay-at-home executive order.

Some minimal operations at a religious facility can continue and have been defined by the Governor's Office of Legal Counsel as follows:

Drive-In Religious Services: Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other similar religious facilities of any faith (“religious facilities”) may conduct "drive-in" services, where participants gather in their vehicles near the religious facility and participate in the service together by remote means, subject to the following requirements, which are intended to protect public health, safety, and welfare:

  • Participants may leave their homes to travel by vehicle to and from the religious facility, and must remain in their vehicle at all times.
  • No vehicle may contain more than 10 persons, in accordance with paragraph III of the Order.
  • Participants may not interact physically with clergy, staff, or participants in other vehicles. This includes, but is not limited to, collecting donations by basket or plate.

Limited In-Person Services: Clergy may conduct limited in-person services at their respective religious facilities, and participants may leave their homes to travel to and from the religious facility for such services, subject to the following requirements, which are intended to protect public health, safety, and welfare:

  • No more than 10 persons, including clergy, staff and participants, may be present inside the religious facility during the service.
  • Participants may not interact physically with clergy, staff, or participants. This includes, but is not limited to, collecting donations by basket or plate.
  • Participants, clergy, and staff must be at least six feet apart from one another at all times, except for participants that are part of the same household; and comply with all applicable guidance from the CDC and MDH regarding social distancing.
  • There must be at least a four-hour gap between the end of one in-person service, and the beginning of the next in-person service. The religious facility should be cleaned between services, in accordance with CDC cleaning and disinfection guidance.

Minimal Operations at Religious Facilities: Clergy and other staff of religious facilities are permitted to continue conducting minimal operations provided that they comply with all applicable guidance from the CDC and MDH regarding social distancing. In the case of religious facilities, the term "minimal operations" includes, but is not necessarily limited to, facilitating remote services.

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