DOJ Warns Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom Not to Trample on Religious Liberty

‘Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights…’

(Claire Russel, Liberty Headlines) The Justice Department warned California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a letter on Tuesday that his slow-moving reopening plan could violate citizens’ religious freedom.

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Newsom’s plan does not allow in-person worship gatherings to take place again until the third phase of his four-part plan.

This represents an “unequal treatment of faith communities,” according to Eric Dreiband, the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, since secular businesses, such as restaurants, will be allowed to open in Newsom’s second phase.

To protect religious liberty, Newsom should allow churches to reopen in the second phase, Dreiband said.

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Gavin Newsom/Photo by XPRIZE Foundation (CC)

“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,” the letter reads.

“Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights,” the letter states.

This is at least the third time the DOJ has intervened to protect religious liberty since the coronavirus crisis began in March.

Attorney General Bill Barr filed a statement of interest last month with a Mississippi church after the mayor of Greenville, Mississippi tried to ban drive-in church services.

The DOJ also filed a statement of interest with a Virginia church after its pastor was slapped with a hefty fine for holding a limited, in-person service.

Dreiband’s letter to Newsom does not threaten immediate legal action, but Barr has been clear in his past statements that the federal government will act against states that insist on unnecessary and unlawful restrictions.