California Clergy to defy Governor Newsom

Clergy planning to defy Newsom Over 1,200 religious leaders say they will resume services May 31 regardless of what governor does

By staff and wire reports

A law firm representing more than 1,200 clergy members in California advised Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday that their houses of worship will resume services May 31, whether or not the governor lifts his ban on religious assemblies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

A letter from Murrieta-based lawyer Robert H. Tyler acknowledged Newsom’s

“significant efforts” to protect the health and safety of Californians but points out that the governor still “overlooked the essential and critical nature of the services provided by clergy and religious assemblies throughout California.”

Tyler lists support from several prominent Southern California faith leaders, including Rabbi Michael Barclay of Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village, the Rev. Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel, Chino Hills, the Rev. Diego Mesa of Abundant Living Family Church in Rancho Cucamonga, the Rev. Dan Carroll of Water of Life Community Church in Fontana and the Rev. Jim Domen of Newport Beach-based Church United.

Most of these clergy members gathered at Water of Life Community Church, a megachurch in Fontana, on May 7 and expressed similar sentiments, including the desire to open their sanctuaries for in-person services on May 31, which is observed by Christians as the Day of the Pentecost.

On Monday, Newsom said it still isn’t time for hair salons, gyms, bars, churches and other “higher-risk” businesses or organizations to reopen but added it could be just a few weeks away under Phase 3 of the state’s plan.

Tyler’s letter to Newsom came one day after the U.S. Justice Department told the governor his plan to reopen California discriminates against churches.

In his letter, Tyler essentially gives Newsom an ultimatum, urging him to revise the executive order that omits churches from the category of “essential services” before May 31 so they would not be forced to defy the governor’s orders.

“All services will be held in compliance with CDC and state guidelines for social distancing as is required of essential businesses,” Tyler said. “We welcome to be part of the solution by meeting with you and working toward your efforts in serving the community interests.”

Carroll posted a video message on Water of Life Community Church’s website urging congregants to be patient as the church plans its reopening.

“We want to go slow and be very cautious and thoughtful,” he said. “Safety is of the utmost importance. We are taking it one day at a time and a step at a time.”

Carroll said it would be impossible for all members of the 26,000-strong church to return at once. He has been advised by county health officials not to allow more than 300 people in the sanctuary, which typically would accommodate about 3,300.

He encouraged first responders, health care workers and others in “serious crisis” to come to the initial services and those who are at high risk to stay home and watch the services online.

Carroll also said those attending will need to get tickets through Eventbrite. Other activities for the entire congregation, such as parking lot communion services and drive-in style services, are in the planning stages, he said.

In a letter to the governor Tuesday, Eric S. Dreiband, head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, 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.

A message seeking comment from the governor’s office wasn’t immediately returned.

A few churches have defied the ban on such services and sued to reopen, so far unsuccessfully.

The letter from Dreiband and four U.S. attorneys for California cites a statement issued in April by Attorney General William P. Barr that argued the government can’t impose “special restrictions” on religious activity. Barr had taken the rare step of filing papers to side with a Mississippi church suing after several parishioners were ticketed for violating a stay-at-home order by attending drive-in services.

With federal prosecutors now weighing in, the national debate over how far the coronavirus gathering limits can go to restrict religion could get even louder. President Donald Trump’s reelection appeal to devout conservative voters rests in part on his vocal advocacy for religious freedom, making the issue a politically potent one for his administration to take up.

The letter to Newsom doesn’t threaten immediate legal action but appears to be a warning to the nation’s most populous state. The prosecutors follow a line of argument used in the church lawsuits in saying that the religious groups can provide safe, socially distanced worship.

Public cautious

Strong concern about a second wave of coronavirus infections is reinforcing widespread opposition among Americans to reopening public places, a new poll finds, even as many state leaders step up efforts to return to life before the pandemic. Yet support for public health restrictions imposed to control the virus’s spread is no longer overwhelming. It has been eroded over the past month by a widening partisan divide, with Democrats more cautious and Republicans less anxious as President Donald Trump urges states to “open up our country,” according to the new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The poll finds that 83% of Americans are at least somewhat concerned that lifting restrictions in their area will lead to additional infections, with 54% saying they are very or extremely concerned that such steps will result in a spike of COVID- 19 cases.

“Oh, I’d like to get my hair and nails done. It’s one of those little pleasures you take for granted,” said Kathy Bishop, a 59-year-old billing specialist who had pneumonia two years ago. “But I’m just going to suck it up. It’s not worth the risk.”

Bishop lives in the western suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, a state where Republican Gov. Mike DeWine is among the state chief executives leading a gradual reopening of businesses such as salons, barbershops, restaurants and bars. But even after nine weeks spent at home, Bishop is among the solid majority of Americans who support rigorous criteria for economic reopening that goes beyond wearing masks in public places and continued social distancing.

About 8 in 10 Americans say it’s essential to reopening for people to return to self-quarantine if they are exposed to the virus.

Roughly 6 in 10 also say having widespread testing for the coronavirus in their area is essential to reestablishing public activities, along with requiring people to keep 6 feet apart in most places and to wear face masks when they’re near others outside their homes.

Nearly as telling as the public’s appetite for rigorous precaution: Close to half say it is essential that a vaccine be available before public life resumes. A third say that’s important but not essential.

A person films the Rev. Nicolas Sanchez, center left, celebrating Easter Vigil Mass at St. Patrick’s Church in North Hollywood in April. The head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division told Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday that his plan to reopen California discriminates against faith communities.  THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Associated Press and staff writer Deepa Bharath contributed to this report.

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  • Posted On: 5/21/2020 7:24:21 AM
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  • Last Modified On: 5/21/2020 7:24:21 AM
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