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Some Southern California churches set to hold indoor services for the holidays

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Many houses of worship in Los Angeles County will be holding indoor services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day after public health officials eased pandemic restrictions last weekend, CBS Los Angeles reports.

On Saturday, the LA County Public Health Department announced that indoor religious services would again be permitted, this in response to a ruling from the Supreme Court in early December. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Pasadena church that had challenged California Governor Gavin Newsom's restrictions on religious gatherings, arguing that they violated the First Amendment.

The county said places of worship can hold services inside and outside, but must practice 6 feet of physical distancing between households, and all attendees must wear face coverings.

However, the health department issued a statement Thursday afternoon strongly urging people to refrain from attending in-person services.

"No matter what a Superior Court judge says and given what's happening now, it is simply too risky to gather indoors with other people who do not live with you," the statement said. "Public Health urges you to continue to more safely worship as you have during the pandemic by attending remotely via streaming service or at outdoor services only."

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The department said that attending an indoor service would "result in transmission of COVID-19 and additional hospitalizations that the healthcare system cannot handle at this time."

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which overseas Roman Catholic churches in LA, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, announced Wednesday that it would allow its churches to hold indoor services and released a list of guidelines. Among those, choirs are not allowed and congregations are "strongly discouraged from singing."

Bibles and other items cannot be shared and communion will only be offered "in the form of bread, on the hand."

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown LA will hold two Masses on Thursday afternoon with a maximum indoor capacity of 130 people each. They will hold another two on Christmas morning.

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The Reverend Arturo Corral sprinkles holy water following Mass marking the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the historic Our Lady Queen of Angels (La Placita) Church amid the COVID-19 pandemic on December 12, 2020, in Los Angeles. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there has been significant controversy surrounding the issue of whether houses of worship should be allowed to meet indoors. LA County has been engaged in multiple legal cases with churches who chose to defy orders not to hold indoor services.

Most California churches, mosques and synagogues statewide were first forced to shutter indoor services in mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic took hold. They were allowed to reopen in late May, but under strict guidelines mandated by the state. Those included limiting attendance to 25 percent of the building's capacity, or a maximum of 100 people, and requiring all congregants to wear masks and get temperature screenings.

However, in mid-July, when the coronavirus numbers began to spike, Newsom ordered all houses of worship in counties with high case rates to again halt indoor services.

Currently, Southern California is under a mandatory stay-at-home order that bans all public and private gatherings except for religious services and protests. The order will run through at least December 28.

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