Looks like some members of the clergy in California are joining the ranks of heroic beauticians in protesting what they regard as too strict shutdown strictures and saying, “Enough is enough.”

A group of 1,200 California religious leaders have written Governor Gavin Newsom to say that, come what may, they will open their doors on Whitsunday, or Pentecost, which this year falls on Sunday, May 31.

In a Letter to Governor Gavin Newsom from Churches, the signers state:

The Day of Pentecost is also known as the birthday of the Christian church. May 31, 2020 is the 1,990th anniversary of the original Day of Pentecost that occurred in the year A.D. 30. We declare that on May 31, 2020, we will resume corporate worship as instructed in Hebrews 10:24- 25. 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 letter also made a case for the social benefits of open churches, including:

The clergy of this state are convinced that they must reopen their ministries to fully serve the needs of their communities. The spiritual services of ministries are absolutely essential to the health and welfare of the people of California. For example, a study published on May 6, 2020, in JAMA Psychiatry found ‘that religious service attendance is associated with a lower risk of death from despair among registered nurses and health care professionals. These results may be important in understanding trends in deaths from despair in the general population.’The addiction and counseling services conducted in churches need to resume.

In sum, a great crisis has arisen from the secondary effects of the COVID-19 shutdown. The societal effects are not temporary and will last a lifetime in many individuals. In times of crisis, the clergy have a calling and responsibility to lead and care for their congregants and community.

PJ Media explains the situation of churches in California:

The current California lockdown order considers religious services nonessential. The clergy — including pastors and at least one rabbi — sent a “Declaration of Essentiality,” explaining that religious services and their charitable activities are just “as essential as any grocery store or hardware store,” especially in a crisis where depression, as well as disease, threatens lives.

Advocates for Faith & Freedom, The National Center for Law and Policy, Liberty Counsel and Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, and First Liberty — firms representing the hundreds of clergy in California — sent the letter to Newsom, representing a demand that the governor either alters his order or receives notice that it will be violated on a massive scale.

Government has the right to shut down religious groups during an emergency of these proportions. That is as it should be, but as we open up our country, we might consider if religious organizations were excessively limited, and, if so, why do so many officials fail to recognize their value to their communities.

You don’t have to be a suspicious person to have noticed that churches have seemed particularly unpopular with the authorities during the shutdown. They have every right not to like churches. But they do not have a constitutional right to disregard the right to religious liberty.

Something similar is happening in Minnesota. When Governor Tim Walz announced plans to relax lockdown rules, he left out churches. A piece in the Wall Street Journal explained what happened next:

In response, an interfaith group including the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty immediately put the Governor on notice. In accordance with their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, they sent letters to their congregations and Gov. Walz announcing their intention to reopen their churches next week—without his blessing.

The editorial suggests:

Gov. Walz might take a look at that letter. It’s hard to see how under any reading of the First Amendment the Mall of America can be allowed to reopen while churches must keep their doors closed to all but a handful.

I’m afraid that the Alliance Defending Freedom has had to step in and defend a church in my generally conservative hometown. When members of the Temple Baptist Church engaged in the nefarious activity of sitting in their cars in the church parking lot, listening to a service on the radio, the local police busted them, doling out individual $500 fines (it is not a rich church). The ADF noted:

‘Government is clearly overstepping its authority when it singles out churches for punishment, especially in a ridiculous fashion like this,’ said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. ‘In Greenville, you can be in your car at a drive-in restaurant, but you can’t be in your car at a drive-in church service. That’s not only nonsensical, it’s unconstitutional, too.’

‘The whole point of conducting a drive-in church service is to respect the health and safety of others,” added ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus. “No one at Temple Baptist’s service even got out of their cars, and yet they were ticketed $500 per person under the mayor’s baseless ban.’

(Just to be fair to my native state,  Governor Tate Reeves relaxed rules for religious groups; it was the local authorities who were overzealous.)

As in Greenville, Mississippi, the California order almost seems to target churches. Here, as compiled by PJ, are some groups treated with more lenience:

Newsom’s executive order “carves out a very long list of ‘secular’ exceptions representing persons and places that are exempt from the stay at home prohibitions. The exempted persons and facilities include most governmental operations. The list also includes, among other locations: airports; public transportation facilities (i.e. train and bus stations); the entertainment industry (i.e. Hollywood); construction sites, news media facilities; childcare locations; marijuana dispensaries; liquor stores; cafeterias; big box stores, grocery stores, farmer’s markets, convenience stores, carry out restaurants and other retails establishments where large numbers of people gather and assemble.”

Who would have thought that religious liberty would resurface as an issue in the 21st century?