The city of Worcester intends to fine the pastor of a Baptist church who gathered congregants for a Sunday service despite the statewide ban on large gatherings.
City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said local officials on Monday would impose a $300 civil fine on Pastor Kris Casey for the Sunday gathering at Adams Square Baptist Church.
“It is disappointing that despite all of the sound medical advice, and evidence of the effectiveness of limiting public gathering in curbing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, that this pastor has chosen to ignore that,” Augustus said in a statement. “In so doing, he is putting the health of his parishioners, and anyone they may come in direct contact with, at risk.”
The house of worship has held in-person events on consecutive Sundays amid a statewide prohibition on gatherings of 10 or more people. The fine will be issued because it was a second violation of the order by Governor Charlie Baker, according to Augustus.
Further offenses could bring “a fine up to $500 or term of imprisonment,” according to state guidance issued with Baker’s order.
The church also held a gathering on Wednesday that did not result in a fine because fewer than 10 people were there, local police have said.
City officials did not say how many congregants attended the service on Sunday. The news organization MassLive reported that a headcount following the service indicated that more than 40 people had been inside.
Casey and other church officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The church had encouraged people to stay home if they had any signs of illness.
During an online broadcast of the Sunday service, Casey struck a defiant tone. He compared the ban on gatherings to persecution of Christians in other countries, and he told congregants that their actions now could determine whether their descendants are free to practice Christianity.
While other houses of worship and other religious institutions across the state have mostly had to move move their services online, Casey said his church should have the right to gather in person.
“If we don’t stand now and fight for our freedoms, and fight for our religion, and fight for our God, and fight for the freedoms that we have that our founding fathers gave us, when we’re in the sunset years of our lives, we’ll be sitting with our grandchildren ... wishing that we had an opportunity to praise and worship God freely,” Casey said on Sunday.