A pastor in the US state of Maryland has voiced outrage over being cautioned by the public health authorities for not wearing a mask at his church, despite the building being empty at the time. Rev Dennis Jackman of Community United Methodist Church in Pasadena said he was reprimanded by a county health official after answering the church door without a mask on.
Jackman, who is also a medical doctor, said the official threatened him with a hefty fine and even the prospect of jail time. “The document that they handed me suggested that if we weren’t in compliance, first of all, they would shut us down completely and that I could be fined $5,000 and imprisoned for one year," he told WCMB.
In comments made to the American Constitutional Rights Union, Jackman recalled exactly what happened.
"I was in my office alone, without a mask on, and heard someone at the locked door of the church," he said. "I was not expecting anyone, so I went to see who was trying to get in the church. Immediately after answering the door, I went to my desk and put on my mask, but the health official seemed intent on finding something worthy of a citation."
The health official then informed the pastor that his church would be classed an “unsafe facility” unless it came into full compliance with the Anne Arundel County Department of Health COVID-19 Guidance. If it didn't, the building would be forcibly “closed until the state of emergency has been terminated," they added.
The church had reportedly been following all county guidance during church services. A quick check of the church's streamed services shows congregants social distancing and masks being worn by a choir of bell-ringers.
Under the latest county rules, churches are allowed to hold Covid-secure services, although officials recommend that they hold gatherings virtually on in their car parks. There is a mandatory requirement for facemasks to "be worn at all times by congregants, employees and volunteers".
"The individual providing the sermon may take off their face covering as long as there is a six-foot separation from all other individuals," the guidance adds. In footage of services posted to Facebook, Pastor Jackman can be seen preaching without a mask. The county health department recommends that "choirs not be active at this time".
"Singing in a house of worship is not recommended," it adds.
In response to the incident, American Constitutional Rights Union President Lori Roman said: "Within the span of a week, Governor Hogan has signed an executive order releasing prisoners, citing COVID, and health departments across the state have been unleashed to threaten and harass pastors and churches.
"The entire country is watching this juxtaposition of principles and priorities.”
Roman said the "attack on churches must stop" and that Covid-19 cannot be allowed to "erase our freedoms".