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EXCLUSIVE — The Justice Department is urging Nevada to reconsider its flat ban on religious gatherings of 10 or more people.
“We are concerned, however, that the flat prohibition against 10 or more persons gathering for in-person worship services — regardless of whether they maintain social-distancing guidelines — impermissibly treats religious and nonreligious organizations unequally,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Nevada Nicholas Trutanich and Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband wrote in a letter obtained by Fox News to the state’s Gov. Steve Sisolak.
“These directives may violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, unless the government can prove a compelling interest and pursued the least restrictive means possible,” they wrote.
They called on Sisolak to amend his emergency directive and remedy the “unequal treatment of places of worship.” Sisolak’s office did not immediately comment.
An emergency directive enacted March 20 banned in-person worship services of 10 or more people and also prohibited drive-in and pop-up services, but the state has since allowed drive-in services.
On May 9, Nevada began phase one of its reopening process by allowing barbershops and salons to reopen by appointment and restaurants and retail to reopen in-house dining at 50 percent capacity, but let stand the ban on churches. On June 4, casinos are set to reopen in the state with social distancing.
Nevada’s neighbor, California, announced Monday that its houses of worship would be allowed to reopen under certain guidelines.
This past Friday, President Trump announced that houses of worship would be deemed "essential" and threatened to intervene if governors did not allow religious services to resume.
"The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now--for this weekend," Trump said. "If they don't do it, I will override the governors."
The president added, "In America, we need more prayer, not less."
At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines for reopening houses of worship with social-distancing measures and the use of face coverings.