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Battle over in-person church services in California amid the pandemic could end soon

Gov. Newsom said Friday that he's working to release guidelines "at the latest, on Monday" for churches to reopen for in-person services.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In-person church gatherings are not part of Phase 2 in California, but President Donald Trump is hoping that changes after jumping into the debate Friday over whether they should be allowed to open anyway.

"Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship," Trump said. "It's not right. So I'm correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential."

Trump added that if governors refused, he would override them, though it's unclear what authority he has to do that.

Hours after the president's surprise press conference, California Governor Gavin Newsom, never mentioning the Trump's declaration, said that he would soon issue new guidelines for churches to open.

"We've been working on those sectoral guidelines, and we are just days away," Newsom said. "At the latest, on Monday, we will put out those guidelines."

Earlier this week, the federal Department of Justice told Newsom in a letter that his plan to reopen California discriminated against churches.

Days later, more than 1,200 California pastors said they'll open their church doors on May 31, defying the governor's orders.

Attorney Robert Tyler, who is leading the campaign against Newsom’s orders, says these church leaders are declaring they are essential.

"Look, we're going to open, with or without permission," Tyler told ABC10 on Wednesday.

Tyler is part of the legal team for the Cross Cultural Christian Center in Lodi, which defied state orders last month before being ordered to shut down.

The church took to the courts, saying the stay-at-home orders were unconstitutional. But the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California said otherwise.

Tyler said they've since filed an appeal.

Some local church leaders ABC10 spoke to on Friday say they are celebrating Newsom's announcement cautiously.

Pastor Jeremy White of Valley Church says he's been communicating with Solano County Public Health officials and aims to reopen the church at the end of the month with social distancing guidelines in place.

White said he already has markers in place to help keep parishioners six feet apart.

He says it's important to keep the congregation safe, but also to help fulfill people's spiritual needs by fellowshipping together. Since stay-at-home orders were put in place, in-person faith services have been deemed high risk and non-essential.

White says he's glad to see the tide turning.

"We just feel like if teenage kids at Walmart can enforce proper protocol, certainly church leaders can," White said. "And so we feel like if it's safe to go to Costco, we can make church a safe place, and it's certainly just as important as Costco — if not more important."

Follow the conversation on Facebook with Van Tieu.



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WATCH MORE: Hundreds of Californian churches plan to defy stay-at-home orders by reopening on May 31

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