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As state relaxes rules on churches, Orange County supervisors declare them ‘essential’

The day after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced houses of worship can resume in-person services with limited attendance, Orange County supervisors took the symbolic step of declaring them “essential services.”

The board on Tuesday, May 26, passed a resolution that says religious institutions provide important aid programs and social benefits, and that worshipers have “a deep and sincere reliance” on their religious leaders and faith community.

Churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship were closed in March under a state order intended to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

On Monday – under pressure from religious leaders as well as protesters and President Donald Trump – Newsom put out guidelines for resuming in-person worship services, including keeping attendance to the lesser of 100 people or 25% of building capacity and screening church employees for symptoms of illness.

The county’s resolution didn’t give any specific guidelines for how churches should operate, and Supervisor Doug Chaffee noted the board was simply expressing its position – its resolution doesn’t override state orders.

Some residents and several of the supervisors complained that the state’s attendance cap on church services is arbitrary, too constraining and could infringe on their constitutional rights.

Churches that opt to ignore the state’s guidelines likely need not expect county law enforcement will come knocking. Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes made clear to supervisors that he doesn’t plan to enforce state rules for houses of worship.

“When we start to abridge on 1st Amendment rights I get very, very concerned,” Barnes said. “I’ve made clear my commitment to protect the constitutional rights of those who choose to worship.”

Some church leaders have said they’ll continue online services for now, while others have vowed to reopen Sunday, May 31.

Last week, the Catholic Diocese of Orange announced in-person Masses will resume June 14 with some restrictions in place.

Source: Orange County Register

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