The new executive order for the Covid-19 that will come into force on Saturday authorizes the celebration of religious events in person seven days a week and within the hours allowed by the curfew, but with a maximum occupancy equivalent to 25 %.
“We request that every church, temple, mosque or synagogue that has means of communication such as radio, television and digital media carry out their mass services, services or main meetings using said means. If the services are performed in person, they must comply with the guidelines for reopening religious services without exceeding the maximum occupancy equivalent to 25% of the capacity established for the place, "said Governor Wanda Vázquez yesterday in a televised message.
In addition , the parochial or administrative offices will be able to continue operating with said measures. Earlier, Pastor René Pereira Morales, president and spokesperson for Puerto Rico for the Family, had advanced that the president's message was for the purpose of a recommended reduction to 25% of the capacity in the churches.
Pereira Morales had spoken on several occasions with the lawyer Héctor Albertorio – who heads the La Fortaleza Faith Base Office – and he had assured him that the executive order did not contemplate the closure of the churches. Therefore, after the announcement by the governor, the pastor told EL VOCERO : “We had already indicated it. The information we had from the Base Office of Faith in Fortaleza was precisely that. "
" I regret that the Secretary of Health (Lorenzo González) has been denied here, who assured that the churches had to close, that a closing of the churches, when we knew that it was not the case and we were assuming that it was all the time. I believe that the governor has recognized firstly that the churches perform an essential service in our country, in our communities. It has recognized the value of freedom of worship and freedom of assembly that the Constitution protects us, "he added.
Separation of Church and State
Religious leaders of the Island – among them Pereira Morales – They had argued that churches are constitutionally protected by the clause of separation of Church and State, in addition to the protection of freedom of worship and assembly. Likewise, they had warned that they would go to court if the total closure of the temples was ordered.
Bishop Manuel Fuentes Valentín, president of the Fraternity of Pentecostal Churches (Frape) —a religious entity that groups more than 2,000 congregations on the Island— assured that they have maintained the highest and highest rigorous protocol.
“While the pandemic lasts, we will continue to exercise a preventive stance in order to avoid the spread of Covid-19. We will continue to be collaborators with the government and health agencies in Puerto Rico, seeking the greater well-being of all Puerto Ricans. We will collaborate closely with the State if there is a need to close temples when the health risk of our parishioners in the face of this disease is scientifically and statistically proven ”, he added.
Without empirical data
Bishop Ricardo López, vice president of Frape, said that the churches should not be closed because there is no empirical basis for it. “In our case — of the Mission Board Church of God — there was only one case and it was treated as the protocol establishes. If the state that the churches are closed persists, we will continue to claim our right to freedom of worship and we will be going to the respective forums to enforce our right, "he said.
For his part, the lawyer Juan Gaud explained that constitutional rights do not disappear with a pandemic and that the Constitution clearly remains active in the midst of a plague . “The rule of law is clear. We have been in talks with the government since this began and we have communicated with political candidates to give us their position, "he said.
" The government of Puerto Rico, after our proposals, recognized that the church has the same constitutional right to open that the press has to operate … The Constitution protects us the same way as the press, "added the lawyer, who was emphatic in pointing out that recommending the closure of churches is" unlawful and unethical. "