Local religious houses stay closed despite ‘essential’ declaration


President Trump announced Friday that his administration was declaring houses of worship essential

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — President Donald Trump announced Friday that his administration was declaring houses of worship as essential services. He said that the declaration would allow them to reopen in spite of local stay-home orders.

Senior Minister Reverand Bill Sinkford of First Unitarian. May 24, 2020 (KOIN)

KOIN 6 News spoke to local religious leaders to see if this order changes things for them. So far, two have said no, they are going to opt to remain closed in the name of safety for their members and for the community. The senior minister at First Unitarian Church in Portland and a spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community both said they are keeping their doors closed for the time being.

“You look at what church is: you have large groups of people, gathered close together for a prolonged period of time, in an enclosed space, speaking and singing,” said Senior Minister Reverand Bill Sinkford. “It’s a definition of the ideal place to spread the virus.”

Harris Zafar said it’s been difficult for members to hold off on getting together for the holy month of Ramadan and to find new ways to connect virtually. Sinkford said it comes down to the “duty of care.”

“I have a duty of care, the church has a duty of care to our members—many of whom are in vulnerable categories either by virtue of their age or their physical condition,” said Sinkford. “And it would be irresponsible in the highest degree to invite them into a situation that would be high-risk to them.”

Zafar said they are also opting to keep thing virutal.

Harris Zafar, spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. May 24, 2020 (KOIN)

“It’s a difficult area because the Islamic form of prayer requires worshipers to stand shoulder to shoulder,” explained Zafar. He shared photos with KOIN 6 News of what typical celebrations at the mosque would look like during the holy month of Ramadan.

“I don’t believe this is a religious freedom issue though—no one is stopping us from praying,” said Zafar.

He instead believes that now is the time to focus on intention.

“I think that those prayers that are done with that intention might even carry more weight in the sight of God because you’re sacrificing what you want while you are still praying to your Creator and you are doing it for a greater purpose,” said Zafar.

Trump has threatened to override the governors’ executive orders nationwide, though legal analysts have told KOIN 6 News they don’t believe he has the power to do so.

“I think it’s the height of irresponsibility for him to say that,” said Sinkford. He said the key in the year ahead will be to look out for each other. “If we are willing to be responsible about this and care for one another, we are going to get through this.”

In the meantime, both houses of worship will continue to keep their services and celebrations virutal for community members.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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