Updated October 10, 2020    

New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation (NYFRF) has compiled the following list of resources that contain information for churches as they navigate the re-opening process. These resources are provided for informational purposes only, and their presence on this list does not imply that NYFRF endorses their content.

Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York Forward plan, the State of New York is lifting COVID-19-related restrictions on businesses and other activities through a four-phase, region-by-region process. According to the statewide Reopening New York Guidelines for Religious and Funeral Services, churches in Phase Four regions may hold services at “no more than 33% of the maximum occupancy for a particular area” and may hold outdoor services for no more than 50 individuals. As of July 25, 2020, the entire state has reached Phase Four of New York Forward.

On October 6, 2020, however, Gov. Andrew Cuomo threw the state’s gears into reverse by adopting new restrictions in six clusters, or “hot spots,” where COVID-19 is on the rise. The clusters are located in Broome, Kings, Orange, Queens, and Rockland Counties, respectively. According to an October 7 press release, recent COVID-19 tests in 20 New York zip codes show that 5.1% of individuals tested positive for the virus. Throughout the rest of the state, the positive test rate is only 1.05%. In response to these results, the Governor has—in consultation with medical experts—created a three-tiered Cluster Action Initiative that is scheduled to remain in effect until November 5, 2020. Within these COVID-19 clusters, a color-coded system of restrictions is now in effect.

State Government Actions Affecting Churches

I: New York Executive Orders, Guidance Documents and Announcements

Executive Order No. 202.1 (March 12, 2020) (placing temporary restrictions upon businesses and large gatherings)

Executive Order No. 202.3 (March 16, 2020) (temporarily ordering the cancellation or postponement of any large gatherings or events involving 50 or more persons, including worship services)

Executive Order No. 202.4 (March 16, 2020) (temporarily closing all New York schools)

Executive Order No. 202.10 (March 23, 2020) (temporarily cancelling non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason)

Executive Order No. 202.31 (May 14, 2020) (continuing the temporary ban on non-essential gatherings of individuals to May 28, 2020)

Empire State Development Guidance Document (interpreting Executive Order 202.10 to mean that “all non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reasons (e.g. worship services, parties, celebrations, or other social events) are canceled or postponed. Congregate services within houses of worship are prohibited.  Houses of worship may only be used by individuals and only where appropriate social distancing of, at least, six feet between people can be maintained. Further, individuals should not gather in houses of worship, homes, or other locations for religious services until the end of this public health emergency. If possible, religious leaders should consider alternative forms of worship, replacing in-person gatherings with virtual services, such as phone or conference calls, videoconference calls, or online streaming.”)

Executive Order 202.32 (May 21, 2020) (allowing gatherings of ten or fewer individuals for religious services or ceremonies so long as social distancing, cleaning, and disinfection protocols are followed; also, permitting drive-in or remote religious services in excess of the ten-person limit so long as there is no in-person contact between participants)

Executive Order No. 202.38 (June 6, 2020) (allowing churches in Phase Two regions to re-open for services at 25% capacity so long as social distancing, cleaning, and disinfection protocols are followed) 

Executive Order No. 202.42 (June 15, 2020) (allowing lawful gatherings of 25 or fewer individuals in Phase Three regions so long as social distancing, cleaning, and disinfection protocols are followed)

June 24, 2020 Announcement (announcing that Phase IV Guidance will allow indoor religious services at 33% capacity)

Executive Order No. 202.45 (June 26, 2020) (allowing lawful gatherings of 50 or fewer individuals in Phase Four regions so long as face covering, social distancing, cleaning, and disinfection protocols are followed)

II: Court Decisions

Soos v. Cuomo (June 26, 2020) (order issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, Hon. Gary L. Sharpe, U.S.D.J., granting a preliminary injunction barring the enforcement against two Catholic priests and three Orthodox Jews of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 restrictions on worship services)

III: Information and Analysis

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Coronavirus Regulations Affect Churches (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, March 13, 2020)

Government Actions Affect Mass Gatherings (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, March 18, 2020)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo Signs ‘New York State on PAUSE’ Order (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, March 21, 2020)

State-Ordered Church Closures: Are They Constitutional? (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, March 28, 2020)

Cuomo Guidance Places Excessive Burden Upon Religious Expression (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, April 11, 2020)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo Announces 12-Point Plan to Reopen New York (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, May 4, 2020)

Small religious gatherings can resume Thursday, with proper precautions (The Buffalo News, May 20, 2020)

Governor Issues Religious Gathering ‘Guidelines’ (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, June 6, 2020)

Cuomo Limits Churches To Thirty-Three Percent in Phase Four (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, June 25, 2020)

Federal Judge Upholds Constitutional Challenge To Cuomo’s COVID-19 Religious Gathering Restrictions (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, July 2, 2020)

NYCF Asks Cuomo To Recognize Church Reopening Rights (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, July 11, 2020)

Gov. Cuomo Puts ‘NY Forward’ In Reverse (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, October 10, 2020)

Questions to Consider

A webinar for pastors and church leaders on “Strategies for Re-Opening Church,” the first in a 4-part webinar series for pastors and church leaders on Christian leadership in a post-pandemic world, sponsored by the Florida Family Policy Council.

Church, Don’t Let Coronavirus Divide You (Brett McCracken, TheGospelCoalition.org)

24 Questions Your Church Should Answer Before People Return (Ken Braddy, ChurchLeaders.com)

As States Begin to Reopen, Remember Risk Is Part of the American Spirit and Character (Paul Batura, The Daily Citizen)

As States Reopen, Church Leaders Consider Senior Adults’ Needs (Tess Schoonhoven, Baptist Press)

COVID-19 and the Church (Family Research Council)

DOJ Warns Government Against Infringing Upon Religious Freedom (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms)

Guidance for Churches and Religious Institutions Facing Coronavirus Restrictions On Gathering (First Liberty Institute)

Guidelines for Reopening Your Church (Family Research Council)

Honoring God and Government During a Pandemic (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms)

The Things You Need to Think About Before You Reopen Your Church (Megan Briggs, ChurchLeaders.com)

What Pastors Should Know About the White House Plan to Open Up America Again (Family Research Council)

When Should Churches Reject Governmental Guidelines on Gathering and Engage in Civil Disobedience? (Jonathan Leeman, 9Marks)

Civil Disobedience (Pastor H. Ed Reed, Christian Bible Church, Mohawk, NY)

Rediscovering Authority (Rev. Kevin Backus, Bible Presbyterian Church, Grand Island, NY)

Parking Lot/Drive-In Church Services

NYCF Seeks Clarification Regarding Drive-In Services During Pandemic (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, April 6, 2020)

Ministry Wants Drive-Ins Open For More Than Movies (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, April 17, 2020)

Chemung County Churches Challenge County Executive’s Overreach (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, April 23, 2020)

NYCF Offers Churches Drive-In Service Guidance (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, April 28, 2020)

Drive-In Movie Theaters Re-Open Statewide (New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, May 18, 2020)

Governor Encourages Faith Communities to Consider Parking Lot and Drive-In Services (The Buffalo News, May 20, 2020)

Planning Your Re-Opening

Our church is getting ready to meet again. What’s next? (National Center for Life and Liberty, NCLL.org)

Basic Guide for Returning to Your Church Building After COVID-19 (Georgia Baptist Mission Board)

COVID-19 Phase 2: Guidelines and Recommendations for Reopening Places of Worship (First Liberty Institute)

Proposed Phased Approach Opening Guidelines (Metro Life Church, Casselberry, Florida)

What Should Churches Do as They Consider Reopening After the Coronavirus? (Daniel Patterson and Jenn Kintner, ERLC.com)

ReOpenChurch.org (Liberty Counsel)

Sample Phased Approach Re-Opening Plan (Metro Church, Fairfax County Virginia)

Tips for Re-opening Your Church (Baptist State Convention of North Carolina)

12 Things to Consider When Reopening Your Children’s Ministry (Jared Kennedy, ERLC.com)

This Is Why Choirs Might Need to Stay Silent for a While (Stephanie Martin, ChurchLeaders.com)

How to Avoid Bad Press as Your Church Reopens (David W. Fouse, ChurchLeaders.com)

How to Communicate Your Reopening Strategy to the Community (Megan Briggs, ChurchLeaders.com)

Products, Supplies and Cleaning Procedures

Prepare Your Church for Re-Opening: Discounted Hand Sanitizer, Dispensers and Face Masks (Outreach.com)

Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities Guidelines (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Legal Organizations

Alliance Defending Freedom

First Liberty Institute

Liberty Counsel

National Center for Life and Liberty

Christian Law Association

Thomas More Society