Andrew Wommack Ministries Inc. is no longer the target of a lawsuit filed by state and local health departments over its failure to comply with COVID-19 guidelines — because those guidelines have changed for religious organizations, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On December 18, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Teller County Public Health dismissed their case against the Woodland Park nonprofit, following a revised state public health order. “CDPHE revised its public health order to remove numerical capacity limits on houses of worship after several recent United States Supreme Court rulings concerning other states’ orders that imposed different capacity restrictions on houses of worship than on other critical businesses," according to a statement from the Colorado State Joint Information Center. "Requirements previously included a limit on the number of individuals who could be present in a house of worship, similar to the limits on other indoor events.”
Colorado has always recognized houses of worship as critical services, a JIC spokesperson says, noting that the revised public-health order removed capacity restrictions on a house of worship if it cannot properly conduct activities within those limitations. However, the facility must still follow other requirements — including maintaining a six-foot distance between non-household members, requiring the wearing of masks, and disinfecting thoroughly.
Before the public-health order was modified, AWMI had gone against state orders multiple times, hosting large — sometimes very large — indoor events. After such an event in July, the AWMI was listed as an outbreak on the CDPHE's weekly list.
Roger Gannam, assistant vice president of legal affairs at Liberty Council, which represents AWMI, denies any ties to the outbreaks. “The ministry does not believe that it has been responsible for any outbreak of COVID, despite the health authorities assigning outbreak status to the ministry,” he says.
Teller County administrator Sheryl Decker is not so sure. “Church worship is something that is very important. I think a lot of us believe that," she notes. "However, it does bring inherent dangers when you’re in that close of proximity."
The reason Teller County filed the lawsuit in the first place was to keep residents safe, she explains, in line with state regulations. Now she says she's hopeful that the new guidelines could allow for more cooperation between the state and religious groups.
“I believe that Andrew Wommack Ministries will do the best that they can for the people they have there," she says. "I think they care about the community, and they realize it’s difficult. I think that they know what the rules are and that they’ll do their best to abide by them whenever they can. That’s my hope, at least."
As AWMI sees it, the ability to gather is a basic right. “It’s fundamental in Christianity that we are able to gather together," Gannam says. "To worship together, in person. That includes singing, and interacting with others.”
For his part, Gannam says he's hopeful that health officials will show more recognition of how important in-person worship is; religion often forms communities and can help mental health. “The ministry doesn’t always agree with public-health officials,” he says. “But going forward, they will pay attention to what’s going on, what the data and science are telling us, and they’ll decide what protocols to employ that will respect the conscience of the individual worshippers while at the same time protecting the health of the community.”
The next planned AWMI event, the men's Advance Conference, isn’t scheduled until the end of March.
“For now, everyone is doing the best they can,” adds Decker. “We have some very important rights in conflict with this situation, and it’s not easy.”
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