CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) -The Let Us Worship event in Ladson Monday night featured a concert by California worship leader Sean Feucht.
The event drew well more than the state limit on public gathering of 250 people. However, it may not have technically broken any rules.
On Oct. 2, Gov. Henry McMaster signed an executive order that, among other things, set limits on crowd sizes.
Any business or group could apply for an exemption through the South Carolina Department of Commerce. The department updates their list of approved events daily. In a statement, the department says they never received an application for an exemption.
In a statement, the department says they never received an application for an exemption.
One of the organizers of the event, Ron Hamilton, says the group of churches sponsoring the event reached out to the department of commerce about applying for an exemption but was told they did not need one because it was a religious gathering.
“We did go through the process to apply but because we were a religious group sponsoring a religious Christian service with music, preaching and baptism, we were reminded we were already exempt and the State Commerce office provided us the email with that exemption,” Hamilton said. “We really had no idea of the size crowd to expect. At the time we spoke there was plenty of room for people to spread out. We provided hundreds of masks.”
The governor’s order has standing exceptions for schools, public safety and security, covid relief efforts and religious services.
“A Gathering shall not include the normal operations of public and private schools and higher education institutions or religious activities or services, including those conducted in churches, synagogues, or other houses of worship,” reads Executive Order 2020-63.
Organizers were very clear about the intent of the ‘Let Us Worship’ event when they rented space from the Exchange Park fair grounds.
“A religious service is what they said they were renting the space for,” said Glenn McConnell, president of the fair grounds.
McConnell says there is a process they follow whenever a group wants to rent space.
“We ask for information regarding how they’re going to handle traffic, security and things like that,” McConnell said indicating that the ‘Let Us Worship’ sponsors presented plans on how they planned to socially distance. “Part of it is that they will comply with all applicable codes.”
It was McConnell’s understanding that the event fell into the exemption category because it was a religious service and not a concert.
The religious loophole in this case is something of a tricky legal question.
Tom Winslow is a lawyer at Goldfinch Winslow LLC in Murrells Inlet. He says a quick interpretation of the executive order would allow for an event like Let Us Worship.
“In most religious services there is a music worship component,” Winslow said. “Is it truly a religious service or is it a concert? It’s a gray area that will be defined by what is the true intent behind it.”
Winslow says if the someone wanted to press charges, they would have to prove that it was not a religious service. He says there are several factors to take into account.
“Where is it being held? Who is leading it? Is there a pastor leading it? Who is sponsoring it? Is it actually a religious group sponsoring it,” Winslow said. “All these factors play in and that’s where the law comes in. The law comes in to help put a definition behind the gray.”
A group of churches sponsored Monday’s event. It was free to the public, led by a pastor and they even performed impromptu baptisms.
However, that does not negate the potential to spread the coronavirus. The same event in Nashville on Sunday is now being investigated by the Metro Public Health Department in Nashville. Live 5 reached out to the South Carolina Department of Health for comment. They have not gotten back to us yet.