Feds warn CA pandemic rules discriminate against churches, local faith leaders disagree

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MODESTO, Calif. (KTXL) – A letter sent by the U.S. Department of Justice to Gov. Gavin Newsom warns that his COVID-19 restrictions are discriminatory against religious institutions since businesses such as offices, malls and restaurants are allowed to reopen first.

Faith-based leaders around the Central Valley told FOX40 the state’s restrictions are intended to protect their people.

Essential dimension of worship and of the church is not necessarily to be together but to support each other in however fashion or way we have available,” said Pastor Nelson Rabell of St. Paul Lutheran Church Lodi.

I think we are much closer to the reopening of a concert or sporting event,” explained Rabbi Shalom Bochner of Congregation Beth Shalom Modesto. “Those are not opening, it makes sense that houses of worship are not yet opening.”

Central valley religious leaders said that once they do reopen, they are ready to follow social distancing guidelines.

We will see at Saint Joseph’s, less people inside of our church, and we will see them appropriately spaced,” said Tammy Menezes, the director of operations for Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church Modesto.

Churches will also continue virtual services for congregates 65 years and older and with underlying health conditions, so they may stay at home.

“In Judaism, safety health and life are the most important ideals, even more important than gathering for our sabbath,” said Bochner.

Some places of worship will also provide hand sanitizer, require everyone to wear masks and clean between services.

“So that we are protecting our people,” said Rabell. “That’s really what we want, not just us, but every religious leader should do.”

Many faith-based leaders FOX40 spoke to said they are optimistic about reopening but they want to reopen carefully, calmly and safely.

“The risk of getting this wrong is too great,” said Bochner.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday it will be a matter of weeks not months when churches reopen.

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