Governor says guidance on reopening houses of worship is coming in days

Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state on Monday will issue guidance on how churches, mosques, synagogues and others houses of worship can reopen in a way that is safe and mindful of public health.

The announcement comes after President Donald Trump took an acrimonious tone toward governors who have not considered houses of worship as “essential.”

The president suggested on Thursday that friction over the issue was more common in states run by Democrats because “churches are not being treated with respect” by their governors.

Newsom specifically was warned this week by Trump’s Justice Department that the state’s phased-in plan to restart economic activity puts an “unfair burden” on worship by not permitting churches to open earlier in the process. Places of worship are set for reopening, with social distancing and other safety measures, in “phase 3” of the state’s plan—which for Los Angeles County and other urban centers, could be weeks or months away.

More than 1,200 California pastors are planning to restart worship on May 31 despite Newsom’s stay-at-home orders, which he has said would likely allow for religious gatherings within weeks.

Among the California pastors leading the call for resuming in-person gathering is Danny Carroll of Water of Life Community Church in Fontana. State officials “don’t understand that people of faith need contact, that they need to worship together,” Carroll said in an interview. “We’re trying to close the gap – thoughtfully, humbly, nicely.”

The Centers for Disease Control has yet to release guidance on how to reopen places of worship; it was supposed to release guidelines Friday.

Newsom said the state isn’t waiting for the federal government. Officials at the state level have met with religious leaders across the state, as well as health experts, to determine what rules should be in place, taking into account the varied nature of these facilities, from megachurches to small neighborhood congregations to mosques and synagogues.

“We deeply respect the faith of millions of Californians,” Newsom said.

In response to a question about Trump’s comments, Newsom said Friday “we take the issue very very seriously” and the state has been aggressive in putting together guidelines to allow people to practice their faith.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.
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