California churches plan to defy Newsom's orders, re-open May 31

Services will resume 'on the day of Pentecost,' possibly sooner

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An anti-lockdown protest in California
An anti-lockdown protest in California on May 1.
(SANDY HUFFAKER/Getty)
Last Updated:
May 9, 2020 - 4:04pm

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A consortium of churches in California has announced its intention to defy Gov. Gavin Newsom's statewide stay-at-home order and re-open church buildings for services at the end of this month or possibly before that. 

Church United, a California group created to "change and shape the moral culture of our communities in California," is promoting on its website a petition it calls a "declaration of essentiality for churches." That petition, hosted on the website of religious law firm Tyler & Bursch, LLP, states that the signed churches "declare that on May 31, 2020, or sooner, we will resume corporate worship." 

Jim Domen, the founder of the organization, told the San Bernardino Sun that Church United represents 1,000 pastors in the state. In the petition, the churches dismiss the claims of various public health authorities that churches are effectively unnecessary during a pandemic. 

"Facing the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Christian church and other faiths have been relegated to 'nonessential' status by governing agencies throughout the United States. But we, the signers of this declaration, believe and contend that gathering together in fellowship and worship is 'essential,'" the petition states. 

Citing Supreme Court precedent that restrictions on religious worship must be narrow in scope, the petition argues: "The current governmental orders are not narrowly tailored here because innumerable secular enterprises and places where people gather are deemed essential, including those that pose even greater risks of COVID-19 than religious assemblies." 

"We are committed to public safety and will follow reasonable guidelines established and applied to similarly situated organizations," the signatories declare. 

A federal judge ruled this week that Newsom was within his authority as governor when he issued the stay-at-home order in March and applied it to churches as well as other functions he deemed non-essential.