Buffalo Attorney James Ostrowski is representing the Lighthouse Baptist Church in Chemung County in a potential lawsuit.
“You don’t have the data, I don’t have the data. What we know initially is there are two persons who attended the church who were infected. How they got the infection? Nobody knows. This is not scientifically known," said Ostrowski. "Everyone talks about the science, where’s the science on that? What we do know is that two people got infected, the church shut down, took precautions and wants to reopen because we’re past the quarantine period. That’s the scientific fact.
Ostrowski says the county is violating the church’s First Amendment right to exercise its religion.
“What I read basically makes it look like the governor can’t infringe, the county can’t infringe. Those are two completely different things. We’re not telling the churches what they can and can’t do," said Chemung County Executive Eric Moss. "For Chemung County, this is a public health issue. I don’t care if you’re a non-profit, business or church. If you’re not abiding by the public health safety standards, than we’re going to have to take action."
Earlier this month, the county issued a force closure to the church due to a rising number of COVID-19 cases relating back to the church.
According to the Chemung County executive, there are now upwards of 70 cases connected to the church. He says the church is able to reopen once it follows specific protocols for safety, but the church has not done so.
“All we’re asking them to do is come up with the proper signage, make a list, and make sure that people who’ve tested positive don’t show up for 14 days. There’s nothing major that they can’t accomplish,” said Moss.
Ostrowski has said there is no “scientific evidence” for these cases because the public can’t see it and that county leaders could be making it up.
“Where’s the evidence? The evidence would be in the death certificate and medical records,” said Ostrowski.
Medical records cannot be released to the public due to HIPPA law, and County Executive Moss says he’s not making this up.
“No, we have better things to do with our time. We’re not trying to cause problems with the church, but the investigation leads us where the investigation leads us,” said Moss.
Ostrowski’s plan is to try to negotiate with the county attorney, to which the county executive says there is no negotiating with public health.
The attorney says if there can’t be a negotiation, the issue will be taken up in court.