The Department of Justice (DOJ) warned San Francisco’s Democrat Mayor London Breed that the city’s limit of one person for houses of worship is both unconstitutional and “draconian.”
In a letter sent to Breed last week, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California David Anderson wrote, “San Francisco’s treatment of places of worship raises serious concerns about religious freedom. In particular, the limitation of indoor worship to one congregant without regard to the size of the place of worship is draconian, out of step with the treatment afforded other similar indoor activities in San Francisco, wholly at odds with this Nation’s traditional understanding of religious liberty, and may violate the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
Acknowledging that Breed has a duty to protect the health of citizens amid the coronavirus, the DOJ explained “there is no pandemic exception to the Constitution,” and that no U.S. government can “attack religion by transforming a house of worship arbitrarily into a place for solitary confinement.”
“Individual rights, including the protections in the Bill of Rights, are always operative and restrain government action,” the letter continued. “Thus, even in times of emergency, when reasonable, narrowly-tailored, and temporary restrictions may lawfully limit our liberty, the First Amendment and federal statutory law continue to prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. These principles are legally binding, and the Constitution’s unyielding protections for religious worshipers distinguish the United States of America from places dominated by tyranny and despotism.
The letter went on to criticize the apparent disparity between how churches are treated in San Francisco compared to other establishments such as “gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons, massage studios, and daycares.”
“Government may not discriminate against religious gatherings compared to other non-religious gatherings that have the same effect on the government’s public health interest, absent compelling reasons,” the letter said, noting the unfairness of allowing only one person into a building such as the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, which can pack in 2,400 people.
The letter concluded by warning the DOJ “is reviewing its options and may take further action, as and if appropriate, to protect the religious liberty rights of the people of San Francisco.”
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera dismissed the letter, telling local CBS affiliate KPIX that the DOJ is “lobbing careless legal threats.” He also said that the city’s reopening is “consistent with San Francisco’s careful approach and follows closely behind what the State of California allows.”
Salvatore Cordileone, the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco, has repeatedly rebuked city authorities for their lockdown orders against churches, claiming their onerous restrictions are “mocking God.” As The Daily Wire reported:
The Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco claimed that the city’s strict coronavirus lockdown restrictions against houses of worship are “mocking God.”
According to Catholic News Agency, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone participated in one of several outdoor Eucharistic processions on Sunday, which converged near San Francisco City Hall before proceeding to the cathedral.
“For months I have pleaded with the City on your behalf, advocating for your need of the consolation of the Mass, and the consolation you derive from the practice of your faith and connection with your faith community. City Hall ignored us,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone preached in his homily during an outdoor Mass.
“It has become clear to me that they just don’t care about you…We have been patiently putting up with unjust treatment long enough, and now it is time to come together to witness to our faith and to the primacy of God, and tell City Hall: No More!”