Justice Department Warns California Officials Not to Discriminate Against Churches in Plans to Reopen State

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announces criteria for coronavirus hospitalizations and testing that could allow counties to open faster, during a news conference in Napa, Calif., Monday May 18, 2020.
The Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Justice has urged California officials to do more to protect the rights of houses of worship regarding orders aimed at limiting gatherings at certain venues to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, sent a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom Tuesday regarding what he described as “several civil rights concerns with the treatment of places of worship” in the state’s reopening plans.

“Laws that do not treat religious activities equally with comparable nonreligious activities are subject to heightened scrutiny under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” wrote Dreiband.

“Religious gatherings may not be singled out for unequal treatment compared to other nonreligious gatherings that have the same effect on the government’s public health interest, absent the most compelling reasons.”

Dreiband specifically cited Executive Orders N-33-20 and N-60-20 as areas where these religious liberty concerns were being raised.

Executive Order N-33-20, which was issued in March, restricted in-person worship gatherings while allowing for an “expansive” list of nonreligious gatherings to continue.

“California has not shown why interactions in offices and studios of the entertainment industry … are included on the list of being allowed with social distancing where telework is not practical, while gatherings with social distancing for purposes of religious worship are forbidden, regardless of whether remote worship is practical or not,” continued the letter.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Gryboski