Religious leaders react to DOJ warning California about in-person services

This weekend sees the end of the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan. This year, it's a celebration that has been like few others, according to Dr. Hatem Bazain chairman of the Northern California Islamic Council.

“Having virtual iftars, virtual lectures, spiritual engagement of the Quran online,” he said.
It’s a new way to practice the ancient religion due to coronavirus-fueled shelter-in-place restrictions.
The Justice Department sent California Gov. Gavin Newsom a warning letter that the state's phase two reopening places an “unfair burden” on houses of worship, and violates civil rights protections through the “unequal treatment of faith communities," the letter reads. Going on further to say “there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights.”

“My reaction to this is that the Justice Department likely has a fairly weak constitutional claim,” said Deep Gulasekaram, a constitutional law professor at Santa Clara University. 

He says the warning is more Washington politics than a serious threat. 

Gulasekaram believes the various houses of worship can bring their own lawsuits instead of relying on the Department of Justice.

“There’s no discrimination amongst religions. So, it’s a much harder claim that the state is somehow discriminating against religious practice in general. There might very well be really good reasons why religious institutions might be on a different opening order,” he said.

KTVU interviewed leaders representing the Judaism, Christianity and Islam, who all say preventing the spread of COVID-19 supersedes attending services at churches, mosques, and synagogues.
“I’m not overly concerned that someone is overstepping their boundaries, because you’re talking about saving lives,” said Rabbi Aaron Cunin of Chabad of San Jose. Added Reverend Jethroe Moore of the Silicon Valley-SJ NAACP, “This is just another form of just waiting on the Lord to deliver us. Creatively we will get around and develop a new form of worship that might not return to normal, ever.” Bazain said, “Preserving life, and protecting life, is one of the highest principles or our religious traditions.”
They are traditions and customs that have survived millennia, only now to be thrust into the struggle between politics, public health, and the law.