A Baltimore County pastor ripped up a cease-and-desist order mid-sermon Wednesday evening after county officials threatened him with a fine earlier in the week for holding in-person services.
Calvary Baptist Church's pastor, Stacey Shiflett, tweeted a video clip of the sermon, where he was seen ripping up the cease-and-desist order that informed him if the church continued to conduct services, a $5,000 fine would be applied.
Last week, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan lifted restrictions on religious gatherings, allowing Churches to reopen at 50% capacity. Hogan left it up to each county government to apply additional restrictions.
This is where things get complicated for the pastor -- since Hogan has opened up churches on a state level with reduced capacity, Baltimore County is one of several counties in the state that informed all religious institutions to remain closed because of the lack of COVID-19 testing.
Shiflett has since become infuriated with the county's decision to keep churches closed, in which he can be heard at a sermon Wednesday evening denouncing county officials:
"With this cease-and-desist letter in my hand, the Bible says to the New Testament church 'not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is, but so much more as you see the day approaching,' and the closer we get to Jesus coming back, the more church we ought to be having, not less church.
"Now that's God's parameters," he added. "So I'm tearing up this cease-and-desist order right here, and I'm telling you right now, we're gonna do it God's way! God tells us how to worship Him, nobody else gets to do that."
In a blog post on the church website, Shiflett said, "CHURCH IS ESSENTIAL - and to say otherwise is an offense to Almighty God and every churchgoer in this state."
Baltimore County spokesman Sean Naron said the county "has no desire to prevent free exercise" of religion.
"[The] Baltimore County Executive's Order was issued to prevent a clear and present danger of harm — the spread of COVID-19 through close proximity of the public in large gatherings, such as at a church service," said Naron.
Calvary Baptist's legal representative David Gibbs III told WJZ Baltimore: "If Walmart's open, it's time for the churches to be open."
Gibbs said the pastor does not anticipate closing his doors anytime soon: "I don't plan on shutting the church. If they fine us, I'm not paying it. It's unconstitutional. They don't have a leg to stand on."
Shiflett's fight with county officials is outlined in our latest piece titled ""Land Of The Free?" - The Polarizing Politics Of A Pandemic Exposed."
The Archdiocese of Baltimore described a plan in early May to reopen Catholic churches in two phases.
Several miles away, in Baltimore City, Mayor Jack Young extended the stay-at-home orders and limited public gatherings.