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After the Department of Justice warned California officials about the issue of their coronavirus shutdown order discriminating against churches, former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker said on Wednesday that there is "no pandemic exception to the First Amendment or constitutional rights."
“If people of faith can go to the supermarket or get a tattoo, they can also worship practicing the same type of things they would do in their secular life,” Whitaker told “America’s Newsroom.”
In a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom Tuesday, a high-ranking Justice Department (DOJ) official warned that parts of the state’s coronavirus shutdown order may infringe upon religious freedoms in the Golden State.
“Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband wrote.
He argued that the state’s shutdown treats religious gatherings differently than it treats nonreligious gatherings that may involve similar numbers of people.
“Laws that do not treat religious activities equally with comparable nonreligious activities are subject to heightened scrutiny under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” he wrote.
One issue involves restrictions that prohibit socially distanced, in-person religious gatherings but still allow certain in-person, nonreligious activities. For example, employees can report to work at entertainment industry or e-commerce jobs that enforce social distancing guidelines.
Whitaker mentioned that in his book, “Above the Law,” he explains that the federal government’s “primary job” is to protect Americans' civil liberties and fundamental constitutional rights. Whitaker said that if there is discrimination against religious institutions, California will be sued.
Whitaker said the letter urges California officials to allow churches to reopen and hold services while practicing social distancing and other health guidelines.
Fox News' Michael Ruiz contributed to this report.