Newsom says daycare, schools and retail will open in weeks, but he’s keeping churches closed

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plans to reopen California has some critics crying foul again over what they feel is his and other officials’ continued religious discrimination.

During a briefing Tuesday, the governor laid out a four-stage plan for reopening the state that calls for reopening potentially crowded schools, childcare facilities, retail businesses and offices in “weeks, not months” — but that conversely calls for delaying the reopening of churches for “months, not weeks.”

This did not sit well with critics.

Look:

According to the governor’s team, the first four types of business/entities are allegedly “lower risk workplaces” that’ll be included in stage two of the reopening process.

“So stage two will be a focus on those lower risk workplaces. So the goal here will be creating opportunities for lower risk sectors to adopt and reopen,” California Department of Public Health director Sonia Angell said.

“And when I talk about lower risk sectors, which I’ll go into a little more detail later, we’re talking about things like manufacturing that may not have been a part of the essential sectors that are currently opening. We also in stage two, we’ll be talking about modifying our school programs and including childcare reopening.”

However, for reasons that remain unclear, the governor’s team has classified churches as “higher risk workplaces” and thus relegated them to stage three, along with gyms, hair salons and nail salons.

“The final two stages that we discussed are stage three and stage four. Stage three is the space that we get into when we’re talking about higher risk workplaces,” Angell continued.

“So these include places like personal haircare places, entertainment venues where people are sitting closer together and sporting events without live audiences. Other things that fall into this space are in-person religious services like churches and weddings.”

Listen to the full presser below:

“The third phase is personal care,” the governor himself explained. “It’s the areas around, well a lot of discussion around gyms and spas, and nail salons, and people wanting to get haircuts. All of us. Those would fall into the third phase category.”

But religious services aren’t really a form of “personal care.” They’re a type of worship protected by the U.S. Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” the First Amendment explicitly reads.

Newsom later added: “But the foundational point of emphasis we want to advance today is phase two as was presented by Dr. Angell is in weeks, not months. Phase three and four, months, not weeks.”

This decision to relegate churches to stage three may inspire another slew of lawsuits against Newsom and his administration officials.

One suit filed earlier this month by three pastors and one parishioner targets Newsom and other local/state officials over a “stay-at-home” order that the churches argue violates their First Amendment right to freedom of religion and assembly, especially in light of the waivers being granted to “favored businesses.”

“The state and localities have granted sweeping exceptions to the shutdown orders for favored businesses and professions, while specifically targeting people of faith and decreeing to religious institutions that it is ‘good enough’ that they be allowed to offer streaming video services,” their attorney, Center for American Liberty CEO Harmeet Dhillon, reportedly said in a statement.

“The state does not get to dictate the method of worship to the faithful. If a Californian is able to go to Costco or the local marijuana shop or liquor store and buy goods in a responsible, socially distanced manner, then he or she must be allowed to practice their faith using the same precautions.”

Another suit was filed this week by a San Joaquin County evangelical church upset over having to stop Sunday services because of Newsom’s strict “stay-at-home” orders.

“Our civil rights are not suspended by a virus,” Cross Culture Christian Center’s attorney Dean R. Broyles, reportedly said in a statement.

For millions of Californians, their religious faith is truly ‘essential’ like the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. That’s why religious liberty is one of our ‘first freedoms’ recognized by the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights.”

Indeed.

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Vivek Saxena

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