Greater indoor religious worship may be allowed to resume in New Jersey on the weekend of June 12 if the health metrics continue to trend in the right direction, according to Gov. Phil Murphy.

Most in-person religious services were effectively prohibited by Murphy's executive order that limited gatherings to 10 people. Weeks after COVID-19 hospitalizations peaked, the number of people who could gather outdoors was increased to 25 on May 22 and outdoor services were permitted in a drive-in setting.

Murphy on Friday did not specify what specific heath metrics he is looking at to make the final decision.

"I anticipate being able to raise the limits on indoor gatherings in a way that will allow for greater indoor religious services beginning the weekend of June 12. I and my administration will continue our deep partnerships with our faith communities to work through the proper safeguards that will need to be in place before we can welcome our communities back into their houses of worship," Murphy said Friday.

The governor offered no additional details about what will be required of churches in terms of social distancing, the wearing of masks or if religious services such as funerals and weddings would be allowed.

"We know some faith institutions are not ready to open. We will work with you and respect when you feel it is safe to do so," Murphy said.

A handful of religious leaders have sued the Murphy administration over the executive orders, arguing that the emergency restrictions infringe on their First Amendment rights.

Murphy on Friday also said that child-care services would be able to take all children starting June 15. Currently, child care is only available to children of essential workers. Youth recreation and day camps could also resume in next month and early July, respectively.

The Catholic Diocese of Paterson has walked back an email stating that regular services would resume.

"We forwarded to all our parishes, guidelines for reopening churches so that everyone would be prepared," diocese spokesman Rich Sokerka said Friday.

The Archdiocese of Newark is taking a phased approach to restarting live services.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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