Gov. Phil Murphy erred when he left a clergy representative off the Governor’s Restart and Recovery Commission, Senate Minority Whip Joseph Pennacchio (R-Montville) said today.
The Morris County Republican called it a “glaring omission” as New Jersey plans for the reopening of houses of worship, although Murphy did appoint former New Jersey Secretary of State Regena Thomas, a minister of Grant Chapel AME Church in Trenton.
“In times of crisis, residents turn to their faith for strength and comfort,” said Pennacchio. “There is growing pressure on the Administration to lift the prohibition on worship service gatherings. There should have been room on the commission for a representative from the clergy to ensure Constitutionally protected religious rights are upheld.”
The order to close religious institutions was part of a social distancing plan to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Oxford) asked Murphy last month to permit churches to assemble if the follow safe and reasonable safety measures, including outdoor gatherings.
Pennacchio said that Murphy’s 21-member blue ribbon commission to help plan for the reopening of businesses and stay-at-home orders, needs to include a plan for reopening houses of worship.
“With the cooperation and sacrifice of residents across the state, we are making progress in containing the virus,” Pennacchio stated. “The effort has taken a tremendous toll on residents, financially, emotionally and spiritually.”
According to Pennacchio, when New Jerseyans “are denied their right to practice their faith, we question why no efforts have been made to allow citizens to reestablish their constitutional, God-given rights.”
“The lack of clergy on the commission reinforces this disappointment,” Pennacchio said. “The Governor must pursue all options to safely allow the return to work and business, as well as the opening all places of worship.”