HELENA — The Montana Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod is asking other pastors and religious leaders to join their names to a letter proposing changes the State could make for religious gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the letter, they request that Governor Bullock clarify that Churches of Montana are not compelled, by state or local jurisdictions, to refrain from meeting.
They acknowledge that the Governor should do all he can to protect the health of Montanans, but stress the U.S. Constitution grants them the free exercise of religion and freedom of assembly.
In the letter they say a health crisis is also a spiritual crisis, and citizens of Montana need access to communities of faith.
On or before April 24, Bullock is asked to clarify that churches are not to refrain from meeting, but rather: “ask the churches to voluntarily consider, out of concern for their neighbors, to practice social distancing, super-cleanliness and exercise prudence regarding large gatherings.”
The Governor’s COVID-19 directives do not specifically close churches, though it does place limits on public gatherings generally. Specifically, at this time the state is prohibiting non-essential social and recreational gatherings of more than 10 people without spacing of at least 6 feet. People are also asked to wear a mask when social distancing can not be guaranteed.
Montana Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod have declined to comment on the story until the Governor has had the opportunity to formally receive the letter from the pastors,
which is expected to be sent to the Governor early next week.
On Mar. 25, The Governor’s Office received a separate letter signed by statewide leaders of the Catholic, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian (USA), Lutheran (ELCA), and United Church of Christ denominations describing their shift to virtual services. That letter also states the churches willingness to provide support to the State through spiritual crisis care and humanitarian aid.
The Governor’s Office says they have kept an open line of communication with denominational leadership across the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.