“In order to restore the proper balance between public safety and individual liberties, the clergy we represent have declared their intent to begin holding in-person church services beginning on Sunday, May 31, 2020,” the letter stated. “All services will be held in compliance with CDC and state guidelines for social distancing as is required of ‘essential businesses.'”
Churches at the center of reopening debate in US
Houses of worship were ultimately not included as part of the guidelines.
On Wednesday, Senior Advisor to the President Kellyanne Conway said that the administration was still working with the CDC on guidelines for those institutions.
President Donald Trump, speaking more broadly on Thursday, said one of the things he wants to do to “normalize” life in the US is “get the churches open.”
“The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat governors,” Trump said. “I want to get our churches open, and we’re going to take a very strong position on that soon.”
It also comes one day after the Department of Justice sent Newsom a letter warning him that the state’s plan to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic discriminated against churches.
In a letter to Newsom, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division wrote that the reopening plan, which allows for a return to restaurants and shopping malls ahead of religious services, contained “pronounced unequal treatment of faith communities” that could run afoul of the First Amendment.
“The Department of Justice does not seek to dictate how States such as California determine what degree of activity and personal interaction should be allowed to protect the safety of their citizens,” assistant district attorney general Eric Dreiband wrote. “However, we are charged with upholding the Constitution and federal statutory protections for civil rights.”
“Whichever level of restrictions you adopt, these civil rights protections mandate equal treatment of persons and activities of a secular and religious nature,” he added.
According to Johns Hopkins University’s tally of cases in the United States, there are at least 1,551,853 cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and at least 93,439 people have died in the U.S. from coronavirus.
California currently has at least 85,997 coronavirus cases and 3,497 deaths.
CNN’s David Shortell, Deborah Bloom, Nick Valencia, Jason Hoffman, Caroline Kelly and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.