The federal Department of Justice has sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom stating that his plan to reopen California might be violating religious rights. The head of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division warned Newsom his statewide stay-at-home order discriminates against churches. Federal officials said Newsom should allow some in-person worship services during the current second stage of the plan.
"California has not shown why interactions in offices and studios of the entertainment industry, and in-person operations to facilitate nonessential ecommerce, 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," Eric Dreiband, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in the letter.
Newsom has repeatedly made it clear houses-of-worship can start welcoming back church-goers for limited in-person services in just a matter of weeks during the third stage.
The letter refers questions from the Newsom adminstration to U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, McGregor Scott, who is based in Sacramento.
Sacramento attorney Bradley Benbrook talked about the letter and the California reopening plan in terms of churches on the John McGinness Show. Benbrook has litigated a number of high-profile cases and experience within the DOJ.
He noted that the Governor has incredibly broad power under the Emergency Services Act to regulate economic behavior, but when it comes fundamental constitutional rights the power's more limited.
"The Justice Department is saying,'guys, you know you gotta be wrong here'," said Benbrook. In reference to the DOJ request that the state orders be revised, he thinks there's a good that will happen.
Listen to the full interview below.