DOJ argues governor's plan to reopen California discriminates against churches

DOJ argues governor's plan to reopen California discriminates against churches
Posted at 10:34 AM, May 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-20 11:34:15-04

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The head of the federal Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has told Gov. Gavin Newsom that his plan to reopen California discriminates against churches.

In a letter to the governor Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said that despite the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, Newsom should allow some in-person worship.

Restaurants and other secular businesses are being allowed to reopen under social distancing guidelines but not churches, which are limited to online and similar services.

That places an “unfair burden” on them that violates civil rights protections through “unequal treatment of faith communities,” the letter said.

Dreiband argued in his letter that the state has not shown why interactions in offices, entertainment studios and other in-person interactions are allowed, while gatherings with social distancing for religious purposes are forbidden.

Newsom says churches and other religious institutions could start welcoming back the faithful for limited in-person services in the coming weeks.

Dreiband wrote that his department believes the U.S. Constitution calls for California to do more to accommodate religious worship, including in stage 2 of its reopening plan.

“Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights,” the letter said.

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