DOJ official warns Gov. Newsom that California’s COVID plan may violate the Constitution

Critics across California and beyond are upset over Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest coronavirus order, which extends the prohibition of gatherings at the state’s houses of worship.

One such critic is Assistant U.S. Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband, who wrote a letter warning Newsom that the second phase of his reopening plan could run afoul of the citizens’ constitutional rights, The Washington Times reported Tuesday.

“No pandemic exception”

“Religion and religious worship continue to be central to the lives of millions of Americans,” Dreiband wrote in his letter, which he also shared on Twitter. “This is true now more than ever.”

Dreiband, who serves in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, went on to credit communities of faith for “making services available online, in parking lots, or outdoors, by indoor services with a majority of pews empty, and in numerous other creative ways that otherwise comply with social distancing and sanitation guidelines.”

In response, however, he claimed that Newsom’s order holds religious gatherings to a different standard than other public events.

“California has not shown why interactions in offices and studios of the entertainment industry, and in-person operations to facilitate nonessential e-commerce, are included on the list as being allowed with social distancing where telework is not practical, while gatherings with social distancing for purposes of religious worship are forbidden,” he noted.

As Californa’s plan moves into its second phase, Dreiband explained that the U.S. Constitution demands more accommodation for Americans seeking to worship together.

“Simply put, there’s no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights,” he concluded.

“The pages of The Onion”

As Newsom faces backlash for his position, leaders across the U.S. are receiving similar responses. In Kentucky, for example, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat, saw his order prohibiting drive-in Easter church gatherings challenged in federal court, as the Associated Press reported.

U.S. District Judge Justin Walker sided with the church that initiated the complaint, issuing an injunction that prevented the city from “enforcing; attempting to enforce; threatening to enforce; or otherwise requiring compliance with any prohibition on drive-in church services,” according to the AP.

The judge went on to describe an American mayor’s criminalization of Easter church services something that “this Court never expected to see outside the pages of a dystopian novel, or perhaps the pages of The Onion.”

As politicians and other elected officials continue to determine what is and is not an essential service across the U.S., it is becoming obvious that some religious Americans feel their priorities are receiving short shrift.

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