Tennessee County Backs Down After Trying To Ban Singing, Communion From Church Services

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As the region begins a phased reopening, the local government of Knox County, Tennessee is backing off an attempt at a highly controversial ban on certain aspects of worship in the church.

Although the county was set to allow congregations to resume worship services in churches last week, the move came with a few major caveats: no small groups, no singing, no baptism, and no Lord’s Supper.

Only aspects of “core worship” services would have been allowed under the initial rules, and those only at 50% building capacity. Churches were encouraged to split up services in order to facilitate strict social distancing.

The original guidance for churches also called for the removal of “communal” items like hymnals, pew Bibles, and tithe plates and required that all church staff and parishioners to wear face masks.

The attempt by the Knox County government to dictate which aspects of corporate Christian worship are “essential” didn’t go over too well with the public, especially after gaining national attention thanks to reports by PJ Media and Reformation Charlotte.

On Thursday, the county walked back the policies, claiming that their intent was to serve as “suggested best practices” rather than requirements:

Today Knox County Communications Director Mike Donila shared a statement clarifying the worship center section of the…

Posted by Knox County Government on Thursday, April 30, 2020

To make absolutely sure such a massive overstep would not occur again, Gov. Bill Lee stepped in.

Over the weekend, the Tennessee Star reported that the county’s requirements for churches were overridden by Lee’s Executive Order 30. The order prohibits local governments from issuing rules about places of worship in order not to interfere with statewide guidelines for churches.

Rather than ban or impose restrictions on in-person church services, Gov. Lee strongly suggests that churches continue virtual services for the time being:

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I of the Tennessee Constitution protect the right of Tennesseans to worship and freely exercise their religion in every aspect of their lives according to the dictates of their own consciences. Additionally, the Tennessee Religious Freedom Restoration Act (T.C.A. § 4-1-407) provides additional protections for religious liberty. Thus, state and local governments must ensure these core constitutional and statutory rights are protected.

This resource is an aggregation of suggested protocols from various faith communities across Tennessee. Not all suggestions will be appropriate for each faith community. These suggestions are included as a courtesy for your convenience. These suggestions are not, and should not be construed as, mandates or requirements by the State of Tennessee, the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, or any other entity of federal, state, or local government.

Now, where Knox County’s guidance on worship services once had a litany of practices and objects to avoid in church, it simply reads: “See state guidance.”

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