Justice Department calls on SF to end ‘draconian’ coronavirus rules for places of worship

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The Justice Department on Friday called on San Francisco Mayor London Breed to increase capacity allowed in places of worship, accusing the city of hampering “religious freedom” amid the coronavirus.

In a three-page letter, Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband and US District Attorney David Anderson for the Northern District of California called San Francisco’s policy of letting in only one worshiper at a time as “draconian. “.

The letter acknowledged that the city had an obligation to protect its residents against the deadly virus, but added: “there is no exception to the pandemic for the Constitution”.

“Even in an emergency, where reasonable, narrowly tailored, and temporary restrictions can legally limit our freedom, First Amendment and federal statutory law continue to prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers,” Dreiband wrote. and Anderson. “These principles are legally binding, and the Constitution’s unwavering protections for the faithful distinguish the United States of America from countries dominated by tyranny and despotism.”

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The letter states that the order of one worshiper at a time gives “no reasoned explanation why its unique limit for indoor religious gatherings, regardless of size, is necessary or appropriate.”

The Justice Department said the city’s restrictions gave preferential treatment to places like barber shops, nail salons, massage venues, tattoo parlors, gyms, shops and even daycares. , which can accommodate up to 12 children indoors “even if children at a day care center are together in an enclosed space for much longer than those attending a typical church service.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks to reporters on January 15, 2020 (Getty Images)

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They said the Justice Department is re-examining its options and may take additional steps to protect “religious freedom rights”.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera responded by citing the city’s low number of infections compared to other major cities, adding, “We have to do something right.”

Herrera said with more than 200,000 Americans dead from the virus, the federal government “should focus on a real response to a pandemic instead of issuing reckless legal threats. San Francisco is opening at the speed of security. ”

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He said the city is already planning to expand the capacity for religious gatherings “beyond what is described in the letter from the federal government. This is in line with San Francisco’s cautious approach and closely tracks what the state of California allows, “according to FOX 2 of the Bay Area.

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