New­som prom­ises re­open­ing guide­lines on Mon­day

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Phil Wil­lon and Eli Stokols

Gov. Gavin New­som vowed to pro­vide plans Mon­day for re­open­ing Cal­i­for­nia churches amid mount­ing pres­sure to al­low in-per­son re­li­gious ser­vices both from pro­test­ers and Pres­i­dent Trump, who is de­mand­ing that gov­er­nors take ac­tion im­me­di­ately.

New­som’s com­ment comes just days af­ter he said open­ing churches to con­gre­gants was “a few weeks away.” The gov­er­nor said he has been meet­ing with re­li­gious lead­ers for weeks to craft a plan for the safe re­open­ing of churches for ser­vices, in­clud­ing ef­forts to san­i­tize pews, en­sure safe dis­tanc­ing and other safety pro­to­cols.

“We look for­ward to churches re­open­ing in a safe and re­spon­si­ble man­ner, and we have guide­lines that we an­tic­i­pated com­plet­ing on Mon­day and we’re on

track to do just that,” New­som said dur­ing a COVID-19 brief­ing held at the Vet­er­ans Home of Cal­i­for­nia in Yountville on Fri­day.

New­som’s com­ments came hours af­ter Trump made an un­ex­pected ap­pear­ance in the White House brief­ing room to de­clare that he was des­ig­nat­ing churches “essential” busi­nesses so that they can im­me­di­ately re­open.

Trump, who has said he would leave de­ci­sions about eas­ing pub­lic health guid­ance to states but has of­ten crit­i­cized de­ci­sions by in­di­vid­ual gov­er­nors, threat­ened that he would “over­ride” states that didn’t heed his di­rec­tive. It was not clear what au­thor­ity he was re­fer­ring to.

His com­ments, in tenor and tone, made clear that the an­nounce­ment was largely about sig­nal­ing that he con­tin­ues to fight for re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives, a core el­e­ment of his po­lit­i­cal base where Trump’s sup­port has eroded some­what in re­cent weeks amid broader ques­tions about his re­sponse to the pan­demic.

“Some gov­er­nors have deemed liquor stores and abor­tion clin­ics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of wor­ship,” Trump said. “It’s not right. So, I’m cor­rect­ing this in­jus­tice and call­ing houses of wor­ship essential.”

Speak­ing to the pos­si­bil­ity that some gov­er­nors might not im­me­di­ately ad­here to his in­struc­tions, he sug­gested they reach out to him di­rectly even though the mat­ter, he as­serted, would not be open to dis­cus­sion.

“If there’s any ques­tion, they’re go­ing to have to call me — but they are not go­ing to be suc­cess­ful in that call,” he said. “The gov­er­nors need to do the right thing and al­low these very im­por­tant essential places of faith to open right now, this week­end.”

When asked about Trump’s com­ments, New­som sidesteppe­d the is­sue, say­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion has been work­ing with faith lead­ers to al­low ser­vices to re­sume as quickly as can be done while pro­tect­ing the pub­lic health.

“We have been very ag­gres­sive in try­ing to put to­gether guide­lines that will do jus­tice to peo­ple’s health and their fun­da­men­tal need and de­sire to prac­tice their faith,” New­som said. “We are look­ing for­ward to a very pos­i­tive work­ing re­la­tion­ship with faith lead­ers, as we make pub­lic those doc­u­ments and look for­ward to work­ing through this is­sue in the spirit of co­op­er­a­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

Dur­ing the noon brief­ing, New­som did take a sub­tle swipe at the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, not­ing that the Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion had yet to re­lease fed­eral guide­lines de­tail­ing how churches and other re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions should re­sume ser­vices dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic. New­som said CDC guide­lines were ex­pected to be re­leased on Fri­day and said state health of­fi­cials will re­view them to de­ter­mine if they in­clude safe­guards that should be added to those be­ing drafted by the state.

New­som em­pha­sized his re­li­gious up­bring­ing in the Catholic Church, say­ing he had deep ad­mi­ra­tion and re­spect for the faith of the mil­lions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans and the need for them to prac­tice that faith. He said the vast ma­jor­ity of re­li­gious lead­ers across the state un­der­stand the need to pro­tect the pub­lic health and have been work­ing with his ad­min­is­tra­tion to en­sure ser­vices, when the re­sume, will be con­ducted in a safe man­ner.

Ear­lier this week, the U.S.

Depart­ment of Jus­tice sent a let­ter to the New­som ad­min­is­tra­tion warn­ing that the state’s stay-at-home or­der may dis­crim­i­nate against re­li­gious groups and vi­o­late their con­sti­tu­tional rights. The let­ter ac­cused New­som of “un­equal treat­ment of faith com­mu­ni­ties” in re­strict­ing their abil­ity to gather and re­sume ser­vices.

“Sim­ply put, there is no pan­demic ex­cep­tion to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion and its Bill of Rights,” Eric Dreiband, an as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral and the head of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s civil rights divi­sion, wrote in the let­ter.

Shortly af­ter that warn­ing, more than 1,200 pas­tors in Cal­i­for­nia vowed to hold in-per­son ser­vices on May 31, Pen­te­cost Sun­day, in de­fi­ance of the state mora­to­rium on re­li­gious gath­er­ings.

Robert H. Tyler, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing a Lodi church that has chal­lenged the gov­er­nor’s or­der in court, said pas­tors signed a “Dec­la­ra­tion of Essen­tial­ity” that as­serts their churches are as essential as gro­cery stores and hard­ware stores and should be al­lowed to re­open.

“We be­lieve you are at­tempt­ing to act in the best in­ter­ests of the state,” Tyler wrote to New­som, “but the re­stric­tions have gone too far and for too long.”

New­som, in an in­ter­view on MSNBC on Thurs­day, said Cal­i­for­nia was just a “few weeks away from mean­ing­ful mod­i­fi­ca­tions that will al­low just that to hap­pen.”

A fed­eral court judge in Sacramento re­cently is­sued a rul­ing that New­som’s stayat-home or­der did not vi­o­late the con­sti­tu­tional rights to free assem­bly and re­li­gion when the Cross Cul­ture Chris­tian Cen­ter in Lodi was or­dered to cease ser­vices.

Last week, a fed­eral judge in San Diego de­nied a re­quest from a Chula Vista church for a tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der against the state that would al­low it to hold in-per­son ser­vices.

White House Press Sec­re­tary Kayleigh McE­nany strug­gled to cite any le­gal au­thor­ity for the pres­i­dent to or­der gov­er­nors to al­low re­li­gious ser­vices to re­sume.

She said the White House would “leave it to faith com­mu­ni­ties to re­open,” not­ing the newly re­leased CDC guide­lines and ac­knowl­edg­ing that the de­ci­sion would be “up to the gov­er­nors.”

Christina House Los An­ge­les Times

PAS­TOR J. EDGAR BOYD films a mes­sage for parish­ioners in­side an empty First African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church of L.A. in April.

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