A protestant church in California is suing the state for ordering churches to remain closed while some businesses can reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.
South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, California filed the lawsuit on May 11 through the Thomas More Society, alleging that the state’s plan of allowing certain businesses—including shopping malls and restaurants—to reopen before churches is unconstitutional.
“We feel it is totally unacceptable. It’s relegating the churches to a second-class status,” attorney Charles LiMandri told CNA on Wednesday.
Churches, he said, “enjoy special status” under the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment, and “if anything” should be allowed to open before other organizations, provided that they follow public health guidelines for social distancing and hygiene.
California has been under a strict stay-at-home order during the COVID-19 pandemic, as one of the first U.S. states to see a spike in virus cases.
In late April, Governor Gavin Newsom released a four-stage “Resilience Roadmap” plan to reopen the state; the plan is now in “Stage 2,” where “lower-risk businesses” are allowed to begin reopening. Retail stores can offer curbside pickup and manufacturing businesses can reopen, and by the end of the month shopping malls and restaurants are expected to be having customers. Liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries have been allowed to keep doing business in the state during the shutdown.
However, churches remain closed and are not allowed to reopen until Stage 3 of Newsom’s plan, “potentially months away,” LiMandri said.
In that stage, churches are grouped together with “higher-risk” businesses such as movie theaters, nail salons and tattoo parlors where customers will either crowd a closed space or will be in close proximity to staff.
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