Alabama's top law enforcement officer says he does not think the state's coronavirus Safer At Home order should be enforced against churches and places of worship.
Attorney General Steve Marshall wants to see the order changed before it expires next week.
A statement from the Attorney General's Office says "the Attorney General agrees that enforcement of the order against churches would be ill-advised. He has been assured that the state health order will soon be amended to better accommodate the free exercise of religion."
Currently, the state order prevents groups of 10 or more gathering where they can't keep a six-foot distance. This includes everything from churches to stores to public parks. Many law enforcement agencies throughout north Alabama said they aren't looking to set up patrols at churches in their communities.
"I do agree with what the Attorney General has said, we're not trying to go out and do some strict enforcement. Now if someone needs us, we are going to be there for them but we have no doubt that the churches are going to do what is asked of them," Falkville Police Chief Aaron Burgess said.
Burgess says his team has no plans of enforcing or punishing churches when it comes to the state safer-at-home order, unless there is an unforeseen situation. Burgess says they are trusting churches to do the right thing.
"They understand that with us being a smaller agency and the limited resources, that we want to focus on priorities when it comes to being able to give the best service we can to the public," Burgess said.
Law enforcement in north Alabama say if there is a complaint, they will respond, but the reactions may be different.
Huntsville Police, the Madison County Sheriff's Office, and Decatur Police say they will focus on educating people about social distancing first. Any sort of enforcement would be the last thing they want to do.
The Marshall County Sheriff's Office and Falkville Police will not be actively patrolling churches and have no intentions of enforcement. Falkville Police will if there is an emergency.
Athens Police and the Morgan County Sheriff's Office wouldn't go into detail about their response. The Morgan County Sheriff's Office has made zero arrests and given zero citations. We are waiting to hear from other north Alabama departments.
Regardless, a pastor at the First Seventh Day Adventist Church says they are following all orders.
"In light of those comments, our goal is safety first. So I think there are a number of different methods by which we can put the gospel out to our people, we've figured out creative ways to stay connected," Pastor Debleaire Snell, said.
Snell and his church have been providing their services online. It'll stay that way, to make sure people are safe and healthy.
"We want to make sure that we do our part. We feel a sense of responsibility not just to come back together, but to do our part to help blunt this spread, blunt the curve and to kind of make sure we get to a place where if possible, we can put this in our rear-view mirror," Snell said.
The Attorney General's Office mentioned they've been assured the state health order will be amended, but its unclear when, or how. The current order is set to expire on May 15.
Below is the full statement from the Attorney General's Office:
"In response to your question about local law enforcement exercising discretion in enforcing the State Health Order, below is a comment from the Attorney General’s Office.
Sheriffs and police chiefs throughout Alabama have endeavored to work alongside their citizens to protect public health without being heavy-handed and that should continue until the order is lifted. Health risks vary widely in every situation and local officials are best suited to make decisions about enforcement from the front lines. The Attorney General agrees that enforcement of the order against churches would be ill-advised. He has been assured that the State Health Order will soon be amended to better accommodate the free exercise of religion."
Statement from Governor Kay Ivey's Office:
"Throughout the process, Governor Ivey and her team have been in close discussion with the Attorney General’s Office to ensure that all public health orders uphold our constitutional rights, while protecting the lives of our people during this health crisis. As the governor continually moves forward in reopening Alabama’s economy, she will work to ensure we are doing so in the best possible way for all Alabamians."