DOJ warns Newsom that order discriminates against California churches

DOJ warns Newsom that order discriminates against California churches
© Getty

The Department of Justice (DOJ) warned California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomOVERNIGHT ENERGY: California seeks to sell only electric cars by 2035 | EPA threatens to close New York City office after Trump threats to 'anarchist' cities | House energy package sparks criticism from left and right California seeks to sell only electric cars by 2035 EPA head questions connection of climate change to natural disasters MORE (D) in a Tuesday letter that his reopening plan for the state discriminates against churches. 

Eric Dreiband, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in the letter that the governor should permit in-person worship gatherings in the second phase of his four-part reopening.

Currently, Newsom’s plan indicates churches can reopen in the third phase. 

ADVERTISEMENT

But Dreiband said the governor shows an “unequal treatment of faith communities” in the plan by preventing them from gathering in person, while other secular businesses like restaurants are permitted to reopen earlier, with social distancing guidelines. 

"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," the letter reads.

The Justice Department official concluded this placed an “unfair burden” on places of worship.

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

The letter refers to remarks that Attorney General William BarrBill BarrHarris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle Hillicon Valley: DOJ proposes tech liability shield reform to Congress | Treasury sanctions individuals, groups tied to Russian malign influence activities | House Republican introduces bill to set standards for self-driving cars McCarthy threatens motion to oust Pelosi if she moves forward with impeachment MORE made in April that the government cannot apply “special restrictions” on religious activity and not on secular activity. It does not threaten immediate legal action but comes as a warning to the governor.

ADVERTISEMENT

Newsom’s office confirmed to The Hill in a statement that it had received the letter.

The governor has begun loosening restrictions made under his March stay-at-home order, saying churches could hold in-person gatherings in the coming weeks. 

A handful of churches have rebelled against the initial order and continued to hold services, while some have taken to the courts, with little success so far. 

— This report was updated at 10:13 a.m.