California Gov Gavin Newsom Allows Churches To Open At 25% Capacity

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Mary Margaret Olohan Social Issues Reporter
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Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new set of coronavirus restrictions Monday allowing for the partial reopening of California churches.

The new guidelines, released Monday in Newsom’s “Places of Worship and Providers of Religious Services and Cultural Ceremonies” guidance, will allow houses of worship to open if these institutions limit attendance to 25% capacity or to 100 attendees.

“This limitation will be in effect for the first 21-days of a county public health department’s approval of religious services and cultural ceremonies activities at places of worship within their jurisdictions,” the guidance says. (RELATED: California Church Asks Supreme Court To Block Newsom’s Coronavirus Restrictions)

The modifications allowing for religious services strongly recommend that places of worship continue their services remotely, emphasizing that “this guidance does not obligate places of worship to resume in-person activity.”

“Even with adherence to physical distancing, convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households to practice a personal faith carries a relatively higher risk for widespread transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and may result in increased rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, especially among more vulnerable populations,” the guidelines add.

VENTURA, CALIFORNIA – MAY 24: People enjoy the less restricted beachfront over Memorial Day weekend May 24, 2020 in Ventura, California. Officials said people for the most part observed restrictions still remaining like social distancing due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

“In particular, activities such as singing and group recitation negate the risk-reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing.”

Bay Area officials have said they will not yet follow these guidelines, according to Mercury News. The publication reports that religious services are still prohibited in that region.

The news comes after President Donald Trump called on governors Friday to open houses of worship “right now,” warning that he would override governors’ orders if they do not allow Americans to attend religious services.

“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now,” Trump said. “For this weekend. If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less.”

The Department of Justice also told Newsom last week that California’s plan for reopening the economy discriminates against religious believers.

Eric S. Dreiband, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, reminded Newsom that Attorney General William Barr recently issued a statement in which Barr emphasized that “even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers.”

“Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights,” Dreiband said. (RELATED: ‘Get Me Off Of House Arrest’: Pastors Call On Barr, DOJ To Protect Religious Liberty)

“While it is true that social distancing requirements applied to places of worship may inevitably result in much smaller congregations than some faith groups would like, in our experience with other controversies around the country, many places of worship are quite content to operate at 15-25% of capacity in a way that allows for social distancing between family groups,” Dreiband wrote.

Newsom’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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