Since the beginning of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been updating and releasing guidelines in order to protect individuals and organizations against the virus. At the beginning of the global health crisis, many shutdowns and bans were implemented by states, as well as the government, to prevent the spread of the virus in public gatherings. Many people and institutions were concerned how this would affect places of worship. Although states and the government are obligated to safeguard the health of the public, there is a fine line between honoring constitutional rights and the abuse of government power. During a public emergency or disaster, the government has extended control, but it must follow certain rules to honor each person’s constitutional rights.
Now that the nationwide shutdown has been lifted, many organizations are finding creative ways to adhere to CDC regulations while effectively operating. Churches and other religious institutions are allowed to provide worship during a global crisis, and states are not allowed to discriminate against these entities during lockdown. For example, the state cannot ban only small church gatherings and permit congregation at other establishments.
Although faith-based establishments can modify, accept, or reject CDC recommendations, they should still blend government guidelines and theological responsibilities. When finding ways to adhere to safety regulations, an important first step is to hire a church law attorney, who will ensure that the church is legally operating while tending to the health of their members. Listed below are safety regulations for nonprofit organizations.
Consider the Size of Gatherings
Churches should have good communication with local and state authorities; this will help them gage the severity of COVID-19 in surrounding areas. Clergy should consistently evaluate whether COVID-19 cases are rising and adjust gatherings accordingly. Churches should also adhere to group gathering regulations and avoid large meetings. Clergy should encourage members to follow health and safety regulations of the church by providing protections, such as masks, and limiting gatherings.
Encourage Good Hygiene
Church staff should always be informed of health and safety guidelines. To avoid putting congregants at risk, the clergy should do the following, according to the CDC:
- Provide masks and make sure they are correctly worn.
- Enforce social distancing; families are allowed to be in close quarters, but they should stay six feet away from other worshippers.
- Have good ventilation indoors.
- Promote frequent handwashing; it may be helpful to provide handwashing stations or provide hand sanitizing products with at least 60 percent alcohol.
- When the vaccine is available, church members and staff should get vaccinated. If one has concerns, they should consult with their physician to determine if a COVID-19 vaccine is right for them.
- If clergy or congregants show COVID-19 symptoms, they should avoid going to the nonprofit organization and get tested. They should also quarantine until they receive a negative test. If they are positive, they should speak to their doctor.
Keep in mind that some people do not experience COVID-19 symptoms. If one is exposed to someone with the virus, they should be tested as a precaution.
It may be challenging to implement social distancing at the church, especially if it is a small establishment. Clergy, staff, the choir, volunteers, and congregants should be mindful of social distancing. Handshakes during services should be avoided, and single-serve communion should be given instead of common cups.
If it is not possible to properly ventilate the building, services can be held outdoors. It is recommended to limit gatherings for funerals, weddings, religion classes, and other events at the church. Churches can benefit from installing physical guides. Tape markings and signs can remind congregants to stay six feet apart. It can be helpful to have clearly marked one-way routes as well.
Churches should avoid having high touch surfaces and objects. The CDC recommends to temporary eliminate worship aids, prayer rugs, prayer books, religious text, hymnals, and other faith-based materials. Congregants can bring their own text, or they can photocopy materials if it is permitted. Methods to receive monetary donations should be considered. Churches should avoid using collection trays; contributions can be collected electronically or dropped in a designated box.
Train Clergy and Staff
Clergy and staff should be informed of safety guidelines; however, it is important to incorporate social distancing or an alternative method. Training sessions can be hosted virtually or in an outdoor setting, if needed.
There should be clear communication between clergy and worshippers. Regularly maintaining guidelines and issuing out emails, letters, printed bulletins, and posting on social media about safety policies helps prevent confusion about what is expected. A church should consider having a website with an inquiry section if they do not already have one. Congregants are encouraged to ask questions on the website if they have concerns about hygiene practices.
Have a COVID-19 Plan
Church staff should stay home if they are feeling unwell. Members of the church should be cognizant of symptoms as well. Clergy can electronically distribute or send paper copies of their safety guidelines before congregants and other staff enter the church. This will help church members be prepared and keep them safe.
A COVID-19 plan should be put in place for when worshippers and staff are sick. Every church member should be made aware of the plan. If a person becomes sick with COVID-19 during a church service, the CDC recommends the following:
- Establish an area to isolate the person with COVID-19 symptoms.
- Have a procedure for transporting the sick individual to a health care facility or home.
- Health officials should be made aware of COVID-19 exposure in the nonprofit organization while abiding by privacy rights and following laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- Exposed individuals should quarantine, follow CDC guidelines, and get tested.
- Exposed areas should be closed off and thoroughly disinfected.
- All staff and members who test positive for COVID-19 should not return to the establishment until they meet CDC criteria.
- Have a person that oversees the safety regulations in the church. Staff and congregants should know who is enforcing policies in case there are concerns.
- Have trained back-up staff in case of emergencies.
It is recommended to send clergy and worshippers home if there is a known COVID-19 risk. The building should be then cleaned and disinfected.
Retain a Nonprofit Lawyer
Although churches care for the spiritual and religious well-being of congregants, they are nonprofit entities that are subject to laws. Therefore, churches are subject to penalties and lawsuits if they are not carefully managed. A church law attorney is a valuable part of operating a church, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Church staff should consult with a nonprofit lawyer for legal remedies, as well as health and safety regulations. A lawyer can help with risk management and review the policies of the church to ensure all clergy and congregants are safe. All staff must practice and enforce safety policies each day, and a lawyer can handle and address any legal issues that arise.
Church Law Attorneys at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC Help Churches Abide by Health and Safety Regulations During the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has created various challenges for individuals, businesses, and faith-based organizations. Clergy members must create new ways to adhere to safety regulations while successfully and legally operating the church. Legal problems may develop when constructing COVID-19 restrictions. If you need legal guidance, a church law attorney at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC will help you with your case. Complete our online form or call us at 757-LAW-0000 for an initial consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, we serve clients in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, and Eastern Shore. We also serve our clients throughout the United States through our network of associated attorneys.