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California's stay-at-home order discriminates against churches, US DOJ says

The United States Department of Justice is warning California that its stay-at-home order and reopening plan might be violating religious rights.

CALIFORNIA, USA — The head of the federal Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has told Gov. Gavin Newsom that his plan to reopen California discriminates against churches. 

In a letter sent to the governor on Tuesday, federal officials said that despite the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, Newsom should allow some in-person worship. California's reopening phases were among the critiques from officials. Specifically, officials said the plan raised some eyebrows with religious worship services being banned until Stage 3 of the “Resiliency Roadmap.”

Meanwhile, Stage 2 would see the reopening of schools, restaurants, factories, offices and shopping malls with social distancing guidelines in place. Restaurants and other secular businesses are being allowed to reopen under social distancing guidelines but not churches, which are limited to online and similar services. 

Federal officials said the reopening plan is giving differential treatment to religious worship services.

“Whichever level of restrictions you adopt, these civil rights protections mandate equal treatment of person and activities of a secular and religious nature,” the DOJ said in a letter to Newsom.

Newsom says churches and other religious institutions could start welcoming back the faithful for limited in-person services in the coming weeks.

Additional critiques fell on California's stay-at-home order with officials saying the order doesn’t appear to treat religious activities and non-religious activities the same way in regard to essential workers. The letter says California hasn't shown why interactions in entertainment, studios, and places for e-commerce can operate with social distancing while religious worship services can’t. 

Three U.S. District Courts have denied temporary restraining orders from plaintiffs against the state’s stay-at-home order, which includes one from Cross Culture Christian Church in Lodi. While the DOJ acknowledges the court rulings, they say those decisions don’t justify California’s actions.

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

The letter comes days after more than 180 people who attended a Mother's Day church service in Butte County were told to self-quarantine after coming in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.

ABC10 has reached out to the governor's office for comment, but the message was not immediately returned.

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