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May 20, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – California’s official roadmap for lifting its various COVID-19 lockdown orders violates the Constitution by holding organized religion to a different standard than various secular activities, according to a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice to California Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The California Department of Public Health’s long-term reopening plan calls for a modest lifting of certain restrictions over the course of weeks while stressing that more significant returns to normal life are still “months” away. Under the plan, “lower risk workplaces” such as manufacturing, schools, child care facilities, and offices could be reopened in weeks, while “higher risk” establishments such as religious services, beauty salons, gyms, and movie theaters will remain closed for months.

“We believe that the Constitution calls for California to do more to accommodate religious worship, including in Stage 2 of the Reopening Plan,” DOJ Civil Rights Division chief Eric Dreiband informed Newsom in a May 19 letter. “Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights.”

The letter determines that “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.”

Newsom’s office confirmed it has received the letter, but has yet to reply.

“Attorney General Bill Barr is a great hero to people of faith,” commented First Liberty Institute president and chief counsel Kelly Shackelford. “The same people who shop at malls, work in factories, and eat in restaurants go to churches, synagogues, and mosques. Suggesting shoppers can be trusted to safely social distance, but churchgoers cannot is discrimination.”

As of May 20, California’s 40-million population has seen 81,795 known COVID-19 cases (out of more than 1.3 million tests) and 3,334 deaths. As part of state and local officials’ response, Californians have been ticketed for standing outside abortion centers, forbidden from singing even in online church services, and encouraged by leaders to report their neighbors for alleged violations of the stay-at-home order.

Last month, Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi filed a lawsuit against Newsom’s prohibition of religious gatherings. The state backed down on its prohibition against gathering in church parking lots and listening to services from within the safety of one’s car. Hundreds of the state’s pastors have signed an open letter to Newsom that “declared their intent to begin holding in-person church services beginning on Sunday, May 31, 2020,” with or without permission.

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