California Backs Down on Church Ban After Trump Threat, Unveils New Guidelines
Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom reveals new rules for houses of worship in the state
California's Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom has unveiled new guidelines for churches and other houses of worship amid the state's lockdown order following threats from President Donald Trump.
Gov. Newsom gave churches in the state the green light Monday to reopen.
The move comes just three days after President Trump threatened to "override" states that block in-person religious services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Newsom also was facing an uprising from more than 1,200 California pastors and thousands of congregants who vowed to resume services, regardless of what the governor decided.
At the same time, a Southern California church filed a lawsuit that reached the U.S. Supreme Court on Sunday night.
Church services had been banned since Newsom's March 19 order but would now look dramatically different under the new state Department of Public Health guidelines.
Religious services and funerals can host a maximum of 100 people, or 25 percent of building capacity, whichever is lower.
The state also advised caution around church singing.
A religious choir practice in Washington state became a "superspreading" event in March that resulted in the majority of attendees contracting Covid-19 and two deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Congregants engaging in singing, particularly in the choir, and group recitation, should wear face coverings at all times and when possible, these activities should be conducted outside with greater than 6-foot distancing,” state the CDPH guidelines.
“Counties can now begin re-opening houses of worship and in-store shopping for retail,” said Newsom.
“CA has continued to flatten the curve because folks are staying home, practicing physical distancing, and taking this seriously.”
NEW: Counties can now begin re-opening houses of worship and in-store shopping for retail.— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) May 25, 2020
CA has continued to flatten the curve because folks are staying home, practicing physical distancing, and taking this seriously.
Let’s keep it up.
LEARN MORE: https://t.co/KgYLbjTh3t
While the governor’s announcement says that houses of worships can resume operations, Newsom has repeatedly stressed that individual counties have the authority to implement stricter public health guidelines than the state’s own guidelines, according to The Daily Wire.
Thus it’s unclear how many counties will actually allow houses of worship to promptly resume operations.
Newsom originally claimed churches would not be able to reopen until phase three of his four-phase plan, but he appears to have modified this plan amidst pressure from the Trump administration and from religious leaders across the state who said they were planning to hold services on May 31 with or without the governor’s approval.
“These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united,” said the president during an address on Friday.
"The people are demanding to go to church and synagogue, go to their mosque.
“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now, or this weekend.”
The limits on attendance remain in place “for the first 21-days of a county public health department’s approval of religious services and cultural ceremonies activities at places of worship.”
The guidelines also encourage houses of worship to continue virtual services instead of resuming in-person services.
If in-person services are held, the guidelines encourage houses of worship to adopt “a reservation system,” and “strongly consider discontinuing singing, group recitation, and other practices and performances where there is increased likelihood for transmission from contaminated exhaled droplets,” among dozens of other recommendations.
The Department of Justice sent a letter to California last week informing the governor that his public health guidelines were discriminating against houses of worship, and pointed out that the previous reopening plans placed houses of worship in stage three, along with movie theaters and salons.
“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, regardless of whether remote worship is practical or not,” said the letter.