DOJ blasts Nevada governor for unequal treatment of churches in state reopening plan

Attorney General Bill Barr went after Nevada’s governor on Monday for singling out religious worshipers with his coronavirus restrictions, the Washington Examiner reported.

In a scathing letter, the Department of Justice (DOJ) called on Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak to stop treating religious institutions differently than secular ones when it comes to reopening requirements. Sisolak said he would provide additional guidance on the size of church gatherings the following day.

DOJ slams Nevada governor

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, public officials in many parts of the country have angered residents by treating churches as a “non-essential” entity, allowing liquor stores and Walmarts to remain open while forcing houses of worship to shutter.

Barr has repeatedly warned that singling out of the faithful will not be tolerated, and on Monday, U.S. Attorney Nicholas Trutanich and U.S. Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband sent a stiff warning to Nevada for treating religious groups “unequally.”

“We understand these directives were issued in the midst of an uncertain situation, which may have required quick decisions based on changing information,” the letter said, according to the Examiner. It went on:

We are concerned, however, that the flat prohibition against 10 or more persons gathering for in-person worship services — regardless of whether they maintain social distancing guidelines — impermissibly treats religious and nonreligious organizations unequally.

In Nevada, restaurants and retail stores are allowed to operate at 50% capacity, but religious gatherings of more than 10 people remain banned under the governor’s lockdown order — that is, until Friday. On Tuesday, Sisolak announced that he would raise the limit on church gatherings to 50 people, according to The Nevada Independent.

Sisolak’s prior order has faced lawsuits from churches, and some say that his latest adjustments don’t go far enough, as the Reno Gazette-Journal reported.

Safeguarding the Constitution

The DOJ also sent a letter last week to California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who has relegated church to “phase three” of the state’s reopening — behind retail enterprises of various types. Newsom released new guidelines on Monday that allow churches to open with limitations, but some say that the remaining restrictions on religious organizations are unfair, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Barr has expressed concern early and often in the pandemic about the potential for public officials to infringe on the Bill of Rights, filing a brief in support of a Mississippi church that was targeted for holding drive-in services. He continued to sound the alarm about public officials who are too cavalier when it come to religious liberty, instructing prosecutors in a memo last month to be on the lookout for infringements of the First Amendment, according to The Hill.

Barr wrote in no uncertain terms that “the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”

President Donald Trump has also shown his support for beleaguered worshipers, declaring religious gatherings “essential” last week and threatening to supersede governors who continue to ban public worship, Politico reported.

America is truly lucky to have an attorney general who stands ready to protect and defend the Constitution at every turn — and a president, too.

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