Minnesota Governor loosens restrictions on places of worship after discussions with faith leaders

The Walz Administration and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis reached an agreement Saturday to allow places of worship to open at 25 percent occupancy as long as they adhere to social distancing and public health guidelines.

The deal comes days after Minnesota churches filed a temporary restraining order against Walz’s current Stay Safe MN order, which initially limited places of worship to fewer than 10 people. President Donald Trump recently announced church services were "essential," leading to further debate among Minnesota's faith communities. 

The new agreement, announced Saturday by the Walz Administration and the Archdiocese, goes into effect May 27. The executive order will limit places of worship to 25 percent capacity, require a minimum of 6 feet of distance between households and a maximum of 250 people.

"These are complicated times. These are mixed times. When we feel good about making some progress toward reopening our society but against the backdrop of a great deal of caution," said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. 

Masks are also recommended and singing is not suggested.

There are still plenty of churches that say they will not hold services still, including the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. Some Muslim leaders will keep mosques closed, too. 

In a statement, Walz called the issue “challenging.”

“We know large gatherings of people raise the risk of spreading COVID-19. We also know worship is an essential part of many Minnesotans’ lives, including mine,” Walz said.

In its statement, the Archdiocese said, “We know that Governor Walz and his administration are trusting that when faith communities gather, they will do so consistent with public health guidance.”

The Upper Midwest Law Center, which is representing the churches that filed for the temporary restraining order, said the new guidance is "a positive development, and a victory for our clients and all Minnesotans' constitutional rights." 

"However, this new guidance still falls short by burdening churches with more restrictions than many other secular organizations and activities," The Upper Midwest Law Center said in a statement. "For example, why can retail stores and malls operate at 50% capacity, while churches are restricted to 25% capacity? The church leaders who brought this case are carefully considering their options before Tuesday’s hearing on their motion for a temporary restraining order.”

Saturday night, the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul released a joint statement saying the places of worship in those cities will continue to hold remote services despite the orders. 

“We’ve spoken with faith leaders from across our Twin Cities, and what we’ve heard loud and clear is a strong, unified commitment to protecting the health of their congregations and continuing to hold services remotely," reads the statement. "Any large in-person gathering amid this pandemic puts people at risk. Regardless of your faith and beliefs, we all have a common obligation to our respective communities and congregations. Let’s put their health and safety first.”