By Duncan Smith
Just days after President Donald Trump increased pressure on governors to ‘allow’ churches to reopen, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced Monday he would do so, but only at a maximum of 25 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever was most appropriate.
That said, 1,200 churches responded by saying they won’t comply with a prolonged lockdown and play to fully reopen May 31.
At the same time, Orange County supervisors moved to condemn Newsom’s new directive as overly restrictive and voted unanimously to declare churches “essential,” as the county sheriff made it clear neither he nor his deputies will be enforcing social distancing rules, especially at churches.
“Counties can now begin re-opening houses of worship and in-store shopping for retail,” Newsom tweeted Monday along with new guidance on the next phase of reopening.
But the supervisors instead noted that President Trump has also declared churches to be essential, and pushed back.
“These guidelines allow houses of worship to open with many restrictions,” said Chairwoman Michelle Steel at a meeting Tuesday. “They even discourage singing and gathering for holidays.”
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett added that many of the county’s churches are very large, so limiting them in capacity would place a huge burden on officials while also shutting out far too many worshipers.
Meanwhile, Supervisor Don Wagner invoked the Constitution.
“Can you imagine having told George Washington or John Adams or Patrick Henry or Ben Franklin that your First Amendment right to worship and your First Amendment right to protest can be limited by the government if we think there’s maybe just too many of you?” Wagner said. “You would’ve taken your life in your hands making that claim to George Washington.”
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said his department won’t be enforcing the governor’s guidelines.
“My department is being put in the middle of some strife that occurs throughout the community — in positions that are not consistent with the First Amendment,” said Barnes, adding: “We are not the mask police nor do I intend to be the mask police.”