DOJ warns California its reopening plan discriminates against churches

Per Marketwatch, the head of the federal Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division told Gov. Gavin Newsom Tuesday that his plan to reopen California discriminates against churches.

In a letter to the governor, Eric S. Dreiband said that despite a coronavirus pandemic “that is unprecedented in our lifetimes,” Newsom should allow some in-person worship under the current second phase of his four-part reopening plan.

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.

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

Yahoo reports a spokesman for Newsom, asked for comment, said only that the governor’s office had received the DOJ letter.

California has one of the strictest stay-at-home orders still in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The governor’s four-stage plan allows each of California’s 58 counties to gradually open based on the number of tests, cases, hospitalizations and deaths, among other factors.

Newsom this week eased restrictions for some counties, making it easier for them to move toward reopening retail stores and restaurants for sit-down dining. He said the state was in discussions with major sports leagues about resuming play..

The governor also said some workers may begin returning to offices where working from home was not practical, including the entertainment industry in a list of businesses exempted from restrictions.

“California has not shown why interactions in offices and studios of the entertainment industry, and in-person operations to facilitate nonessential ecommerce, are included on the list as 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,” the DOJ said in its letter to Newsom.