Lighthouse Baptist Church seeks removal of closure order, disputes reports

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HORSEHEADS, N.Y. (WETM) – The Lighthouse Baptist Church has released a statement through their attorney, James Ostrowski, regarding the recent string of COVID-19 cases linked to the church.

The church is asking for the closure order issued by Chemung County to be lifted and saying that there is “no definitive proof” that the death of a 76-year-old man was connected to the church, despite comments from Chemung County Executive Chris Moss.

The Lighthouse Baptist Church has retained Buffalo constitutional lawyer James Ostrowski to seek removal of a closure order issued by the County of Chemung on September 8, 2020. The County was concerned about cases of Covid-19 infections related to the Church, however, the Church had already chosen to suspend church services on September 6, 2020, after learning that two members of its congregation had tested positive for the virus. 

Contrary to some media reports, the Church had taken precautions against the spread of the virus for many months and cooperated with the County after the current issue arose by supplying a list of recent church attendees and also by encouraging its members to be tested and to quarantine if appropriate.

There is a media report of a death connected with the Church, however, Ostrowski stated that the Church had received no definitive proof that this tragic death was related to any church activity.  Ostrowski urged the County and the media to be accurate in making statements about the Church in this regard.

There is also a false media report disparaging the Church for opposing proper medical treatment for disease.  This is totally false and in fact, the congregation includes persons who work in the health care field.

Ostrowski stated that the Church is committed to cooperating with the County to reopen the Church in a manner consistent with the health of the community, however, he emphasized that the Church and its members have a First Amendment right to free exercise of their religion and insisted that the County itself must comply with the law in this regard or risk federal court litigation.

Ostrowski has a lawsuit pending against Governor Cuomo in the United States District Court in Rochester (Lewis v. Cuomo, 6:20-CV-6316-CJS, Judge Siragusa presiding) and he noted that Judge Sharpe in the Northern District of New York has already held that the State violated the First Amendment rights of church attendees by issuing unlawful orders violating the Constitution. Soos v. Cuomo, 20-CV-651 (NDNY, June 26, 2020).

The church will be holding a Zoom press conference on Monday at 11 a.m.

The investigation into the cluster began on Saturday, Sept. 6, and testing was made available to members and those who may have had contact with those who attended services and events. At least 40 people in multiple counties have contracted the virus as part of the church cluster, according to several county officials.

Anyone who attended the church for any events (services, bible study, etc.) between August 18 and September 6 should:

  • Get tested for COVID-19. Anyone who visited the church is encouraged to visit a testing site and provide current identification · https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/find-test-site-near-you to find another testing location.
  • Those tested are required to quarantine for 14 days from the test date. Stay home and limit contact with others. If you must be in the same room as someone else, wear a mask and keep your distance. School age children and school staff who attended during this time period should not attend school in person.
  • Monitor yourself for COVID-19 symptoms. If you develop symptoms at any point during the 14-day period, get tested – even if you already tested negative earlier in your self-quarantine.

18 News has reached out to the church several times, but have not heard directly back prior to Thursday’s news release.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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