Coronavirus presents challenge for churches on Easter Sunday

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Many churches across the country say they are an essential business.

Officials across the country have asked churches to stream their services online to stop the possible spread of the Coronavirus.

Just this week, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo amended her stay-at-home order to shadow Texas Governor Gregg Abbott asking people to stay at home but making an exemption for places of worship.

"I know for people of faith. This is going to be a very difficult. Tough month, I know that. But let me just say your cooperation and your participation is will be very much appreciated and together we will overcome this," Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Josh Blackman is a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law. He says there is no real precedent when it comes to forcing places of worship to keep their doors closed.

"There's a long tradition of the governments leaving houses of worship alone but what we are seeing is that some states have begun to enforce quarantine orders, even in religious gatherings," Josh Blackman said.

Requiring people to stay away from church, he says, would be hard to enforce.

"Even the act of arresting someone requires pretty close quarters, so law enforcement are in a tough spot where they can't go into an assembly hall with a thousand people, arrest all of them, and have them in captivity. This is a very tough issue," Blackman said.

Still, many places of worship plan to stream their services to do their part in flattening the curve.

First Methodist Church senior pastor Andy Nixon says this will be a strange Easter for everyone. A holy holiday celebrated from home.

"It's really a strange feeling to speak into an empty room, but you know people are watching. But we have rolled with it and found a new way to reclaim the gospel," Senior Pastor Andy Nixon said.

Houston officials are urging everyone to stay home, even after Texas Governor Greg Abbott deemed church an essential service in the state. Many churches are heading the warning and going virtual.

"When it became obvious and in everybody public safety and (in the) best interest to kind of shutdown physical worship, we just put everything online and put all of our emphasis there," Nixon said.

"I understand the want the people have to be connected and we're so used to that being through our physical presence, but that's just not possible right now. So, for folks who miss that I say 'endure, stay home.' It's in all of our interest to just hunker down where we are and let the church come to you," Nixon said.

Nixon says families at home can expect everything they would at a normal Easter service.

He says for the bands and pastors coming in, they are following CDC guidelines strictly and will not have more than 10 people in a room.

Easter services will be available for streaming on ABC13.com and all of our apps
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