Story at a glance
- A collective of pastors across California have signed a letter demanding to be considered essential.
- The letter asks Gov. Newsom to reinstate in-person church services.
More than 1,200 pastors in California have signed a petition saying they plan to resume in-person services by May 31, regardless of the state’s current stay-at-home orders put in place to mitigate transmission of the coronavirus.
The signees maintain that in-person services should be considered "essential" and allowed to resume while other parts of the state remain closed due to the pandemic.
The authors say they represent the interests of “hundreds of members of clergy and thousands of churches and ministries in California” including “tens of thousands of congregants.”
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Beneath a quote by minister and civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., the petition states that churches will reopen to the public on May 31 as it is also The Day of the Pentecost, known as the birthday of the Christian church.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., church services were deemed "nonessential" along with other organizations and businesses and ordered to close, while others such as health care facilities and grocery stores were allowed to stay open.
In a related letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), the authors and signatories cite their First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion and note that religious workers are unable to provide vital community services due to stay-at-home mandates.
The group initially thanked Newsom for his efforts to protect the state but touted the importance of religious services being available during the pandemic, citing studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation and JAMA.
“The clergy of this state are convinced that they must reopen their ministries to fully serve the needs of their communities,” the letter states. “The spiritual services of ministries are absolutely essential to the health and welfare of the people of California.”
Other churches around the country have also been fighting states’ coronavirus restrictions. In late March, a Florida pastor was arrested for defying state lockdown orders and holding in-person services. More recently, a Baltimore pastor tore up a cease-and-desist letter when refusing to halt in-person services.
Officials have warned about the potential dangers of assembling large groups in a crowded space during the pandemic. A report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that more than a third of attendees at an Arkansas church contracted the virus during worship, resulting in six deaths.
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