May 152020

From the Office of First Selectman Jim Zeoli:

Regarding: Federal District lawsuit filed by Our Lady of Sorrows seeking injunctive relief in response to the March 16, 2020 order of the Orange Health Director.

Our nation faces the massive challenge of responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic.  To date, our country has 1,450,136 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 86,607 deaths from the virus.

The Town of Orange understands that in these difficult and scary times, many people look to their faith for comfort and guidance.  On March 16, 2020, our local health director made the decision, as authorized under the Governor’s first declaration to apply relevant principles of risk management to decisions about whether to cancel, modify or postpone large gatherings, to cancel congregational prayers and religious events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At that time, Health Director Dr.Amir Mohammad’s opinion was that, under the current health emergency caused by COVID-19 and how that virus is spread, there was no reasonable way for parishioners to congregate safely.  Dr. Mohammad’s purpose was to slow the spread of this deadly pandemic and preserve human life.

Canceling in-person worship services is not the same as canceling worship. Many faiths teach that in circumstances like the ones that we all now face, protecting people’s lives comes first and that it is an act of charity, justice, and love to stay home and to worship through alternative means. To protect people who attend religious worship services as well as those who don’t, we should be encouraging these efforts.

All civic and community organizations in the Town have canceled in-person meetings and large gatherings.  Annual events like the Memorial Day Parade, July Fourth fireworks, and the Fireman’s Carnival have all been canceled. 

The Town of Orange respects, honors, and works to protect everyone’s constitutional rights.  We all have compromised certain liberties in this time of the pandemic.  The Town of Orange acknowledges that citizens have a constitutional interest to assemble and worship, but the public has a greater interest in saving human lives.  It is no exaggeration to recognize that the stakes for the residents of the Town are life-or-death.

Along with the Governor’s reopening protocols, on May 13 Dr. Mohammad issued an order stating that as of May 20, just 5 days from now, religious services can resume in Town providing social distancing protocols are followed.  

The Town regrets that the parishioners of Our Lady of Sorrows felt the need to file a legal proceeding, almost 8-weeks after Dr. Mohammad entered his order and just 5-days prior to when religious services are scheduled to resume, but the Town respects the right of this church to file legal proceedings in the federal district court that has already been rejected by about 10 federal courts across our country.  

The Town of Orange will defend Dr. Mohammad’s order and will continue to work to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its constituents.  We all look forward to when this pandemic ends and when we can resume “normal life,” but until then, we all need to work together to protect each other.  Orange has a long history of “community” and in these difficult times, our Town remains a community that stays together in spirit, even when we must be physically apart.

Town Attorney Vincent Marino will be handling this case.

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