State will let churches reopen, now it’s up to the counties

Young members of the Church of God hold signs during a demonstration against California's stay-at-home orders in Rancho Cucamonga on May 3. AP photo.

California churches can resume in-person services but worshippers will be limited to 100 people and they should wear masks, avoid sharing prayer books and skip the collection plate under state guidelines released today (May 25).

The move comes days before 1,200 pastors planned to resume in-person services in defiance of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order. The pastors have said that the First Amendment prohibits the state from shutting down churches.

The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has also Newsom in a letter that his stay-at-home order discriminates against churches and places an “unfair burden” on them.

Today, the California Department of Public Health released a framework under which county health departments can approve the reopening of churches, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship that have been closed since Newsom issued his order on March 19.

Now it’s up to the counties to decide whether to go along with the framework. No word yet from San Mateo or Santa Clara counties about what position they’ll take. However, both counties have been among the slowest in the state to relax the shutdown rules.

The guidelines released today urge houses of worship to avoid large gatherings for holidays, weddings and funerals and warn that activities such as singing or group recitation — which are intrinsic to many faith gatherings — “negate” the safety benefits of social distancing.

Worshippers have been eagerly awaiting their turn after Newsom began relaxing constraints on stores and other secular outlets as part of a four-phase plan to reopen California’s economy, saying progress is being made in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Many have pointed out the irony that the state has allowed liquor stores to remain open but required churches to remain closed.

Today, the state also cleared the way for in-store shopping to resume statewide with social distancing restrictions, although counties get to make their own choices of whether to permit it.

Churches are included in the next phase of the reopening plan, which could come in the next few weeks. — By the Associated Press

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