Amid mounting pressure from protestors and President Donald Trump, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled plans on Monday for reopening California churches and allowing in-person religious services.
Under the governor’s new guidelines, places of worship could reopen, pending approval from their county public health officials, but must limit attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees — whichever is lower.
After the first three weeks under these restrictions, the California Department of Public Health will work with county public health officials to assess the impact of the in-person religious services in a certain area and provide further direction for the next step.
The new guidance comes just three days after the president declared that he was designating places of worship as “essential” businesses, and those that were ordered closed because of the pandemic should be allowed to reopen immediately.
On Friday, Trump said he would “override the governors” across the country who resist reopening religious institutions.
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship,” he said during a brief appearance in the White House press room as the administration released new pandemic guidance for places of worship. “It’s not right.”
“…America, we need more prayer, not less.”
When asked about Trump’s comments on Friday, Newsom said he had been talking with faith leaders statewide over the previous week to find the best approach to resuming religious services as quickly as possible, while still protecting the public health.
“It’s so important that folks understand we deeply understand, admire, the faith devotion,” Newsom said, adding later, “We look forward to churches reopening in a safe and responsible manner.”
Despite multiple challenges to Newsom’s ban on in-person church services up until this point, the state’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his order last week in a split ruling. The justices ruled 2-1 that South Bay United Pentecostal Church in San Diego cannot reopen immediately.
“We’re dealing here with a highly contagious and often fatal disease for which there presently is no known cure. In the words of Justice Robert Jackson, if a “[c]ourt does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact,’” the two majority justices wrote in the court decision.
Although the new California guidelines will give places of worship the opportunity to resume in-person activities, it is still “strongly recommended” that places of worship continue to offer remote services and other related activities for those who are vulnerable to COVID-19, the governor’s new guidance states.
Places of worship are encouraged to modify certain practices that could increase the spread of COVID-19, such as hand-holding, using a common cup and hugging or kissing. They are also being asked to consider holding services outside whenever possible, shortening services to limit the length of time congregants spend at facilities and close places of worship for visitation outside of scheduled services.
Like businesses, places of worship will be asked to thoroughly sanitize their facilities, conduct health screenings on their employees and ensure that congregants stay six feet apart from one another.
To read the governor’s full set of guidelines for places of worship click here.
This story will be updated.
Source: Orange County Register