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DOJ To Governor Newsom: Closing Churches Violates Religious Freedom

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The Department of Justice sent a letter to Governor Newsom, telling him to open up places of worship now. The letter says not doing so violates the First Amendment.

So far, only a letter has been sent, and no legal action has officially been taken, but the message is this: "Governor Newsom should allow you to worship inside churches, right now."

Area pastors are standing behind this letter which also questions why restaurants and other businesses are being allowed to reopen with social distancing guidelines, but not churches.

Dr. Ron Harden, President of Epic Bible College and Graduate School said, "There are so many other types of businesses.  People are getting together, Church is so essential for mental health, and spiritual health."

Places of worship are currently limited to online services and won't reopen until phase 3, under the Governor's plan. The DOJ calls this a violation of first amendment rights.

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Attorney Mark Reichel said, "They've opened up so many other areas that they're saying, "Hey, this looks like the first amendment rights to religion, and free exercise are being violated.'"

Some parishioners say they agree with the governor holding off on reopening, and are worried about being in big crowds.

"I'm going to go ahead and say I'm going to stay home. I don't think a true believer needs to be in that facility in order to receive the messages they can receive," Maria Coffey said.

Reichel says the DOJ may have a case if they decide to move forward with a lawsuit. But right now, this stands as just a letter.

"Until a federal judge says the churches have to open, the Governor can still keep them closed," he said.

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But area pastors stand behind the letter, saying social distancing is possible and worth it, to get people back inside.

"Things may not be like they were before. We've got to change and adapt to make it the best we can," Harden said.

Right now, until there is a lawsuit, Reichel says the governor doesn't have to respond.

The Governor's Office would only respond to our request for comment by saying they have received the letter from the Department of Justice.

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