Independence Mayor Eileen Weir says a reopening recommendation from area mayors regarding churches and funeral homes was not included in Jackson County’s phase one reopening guidelines last week.
A majority of Eastern Jackson County mayors offered a new recommendation Sunday evening, Weir said, asking the county to reconsider and allow churches and funeral homes to reopen with 25 percent capacity.
Jackson County’s first reopening guidelines, which went into effect Monday, allow restaurants, stores and other commercial businesses to reopen with 10 or 25-percent capacity, depending on square footage. Churches are limited to 10 people regardless of size.
Abundant Life Baptist Church in southern Lee’s Summit, which also has a campus in Blue Springs, filed suit against the county late last week after the county released the guidelines, alleging “unconstitutional and unlawful discrimination against religious institutions and person in orders and plans.”
Bobby Hawk, pastor of EPIC church in southeastern Independence, reiterated Monday what he said Friday in a social media video for his church: If the county didn’t reconsider about churches by Wednesday, EPIC would join in Abundant Life’s suit.
“We just ask that it’s fair across the board,” Hawk said Friday. “We need to have the right to assemble, those that are comfortable.
“I understand … some of you are not ready to come back,” Hawk said, adding that he’s not trying to encourage immediate mass gatherings of hundreds. “This is about our right as citizens and a community of faith to assemble together.”
Compared to the county’s plan, Kansas City is permitting churches in the city limits to resume services under 10 percent square footage guidelines. Abundant Life’s suit notes that in arguing the county’s order unfairly restricts county churches outside Kansas City and discriminated against religious gatherings in favor of commercial gatherings.
Weir said she had not heard back from the county as of Monday morning.
“We’re standing up for what we believe in,” Hawk said, “because there’s no guarantee how long phase one will last. We have to step up and let our voice be heard.”
Before the county issued its initial reopening guidelines last week, the mayors of Independence, Blue Springs (Carson Ross), Grain Valley (Mike Todd), Lee’s Summit (Bill Baird), Raytown (Michael McDonough) and Sugar Creek (Mike Larson) discussed the recommended guidelines and had a chance to offer their own recommendations if any differed.
County Legislature Chair Theresa Cass Galvin, R-Lee’s Summit, raised the church issue with County Executive Frank White Jr. at the May 4 legislative meeting during a discussion of the new county rules.
“I think churches are very important for us to look at because the community, they need the church,” she said.
Galvin said a church with a capacity of 300, for example, ought not be limited to 10 people.
“It doesn’t really make sense” as long as people in attendance maintain social distancing, she said.
She asked White to take that into consideration.
“And we will, thank you,” he said.