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Hundreds of California churches plan to reopen May 31, defying state orders

The state's public health order considers in-person faith services high-risk, making them unable to return until Stage 3 — a benchmark with no definitive date.

SACRAMENTO, Calif — More than 1,200 California pastors are committed to opening their church doors on May 31, defying Governor Gavin Newsom’s statewide stay-home orders.

Attorney Robert Tyler, who is leading the campaign against Newsom’s orders, says these church leaders are declaring they are essential.

"Look, we’re going to open, with or without permission,” Tyler said.

The state's public health order considers in-person faith services non-essential and high-risk, making them unable to return until Stage 3 — a benchmark with no definitive date.

On Tuesday, the United States Department of Justice warned Newsom that his reopening plan discriminates against churches. The DOJ’s letter comes days after more than 180 people in Butte County were told to self-quarantine after attending a Mother's Day church service with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.

“A lot of people of faith, they find solace in their church and their gatherings, and fellowshipping with one another,” Tyler said. “And so this is really critical and important."

Tyler said the order preventing church gatherings with social distancing is unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment right of religious freedom.

"Churches should be able to get together just like Costco, just like the grocery stores,” Tyler said.

But some faith leaders like Anthony Sadler of Shiloh Baptist Church in Sacramento says avoiding in-person service is for the greater good.

"This doesn't feel like an attack on the church for me,” Sadler said. “This feels like we're in a difficult situation where many are being asked to sacrifice — church and non church included."

The debate is working its way through court.

Tyler is part of the legal team for the Cross Cultural Christian Center in Lodi, which defied state orders last month ago before being ordered to shut down. They filed an appeal in the 9th circuit court, hopeful for a favorable ruling after other judges in other parts of country found similar orders unconsitutuional. 

“I'm hoping that the Governor will look at this and say, ‘Yeah, we've been a little too draconian.’”

Follow the conversation on Facebook with Van Tieu.

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WATCH MORE: US Judge rules California ban on church services in pandemic is constitutional