SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — More than 1,200 California pastors say they will resume in-person services on May 31 in defiance of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Newsom has gradually allowed some businesses to reopen as the state’s number of virus-related hospitalizations has flattened. But churches are still banned, along with hair salons and sporting events. Newsom said Monday churches could reopen in weeks, not months.
But many churches are tired of waiting. Wednesday, a lawyer representing a church in Lodi that has sued Newsom said more than 1,200 pastors have signed a “declaration of essentiality” that announces their plan to reopen on May 31 while observing physical distancing and other precautions.
Attorney Robert Tyler said some pastors represent multiple churches. He expects as many as 3,000 churches across California could have in-person services on May 31.
“This letter was not sent for the purposes of asking for permission,” he said.
The letter comes one day after the head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division told Newsom in a letter that his stay-at-home order discriminates against churches and places an “unfair burden” on them.
Representatives from Newsom’s office and the California Department of Public Health did not respond to a request for comment.
California has more than 85,700 coronavirus cases and more than 3,400 deaths, according to data complied by Johns Hopkins University. The number of people infected is likely higher because of a lack of testing.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
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