FONTANA (CBSLA) — Local pastors who want to reopen their churches are applauding a letter from the Department of Justice to Gov. Gavin Newsom that says his phased reopening “facially discriminates against religious exercise.”

A letter to Newsom from the DOJ sent this week acknowledged the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus pandemic and his responsibility to protect the health and safety of his constituents. But then the letter went on to say that even in times of emergency, “the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers.”

Under Newsom’s plan to reopen California, places of worship are part of stage three, along with hair and nail salons and entertainment venues like movie theaters and sports, without the fans.

“You know, this is not Disneyland,” Shield of Faith Pastor Patrick Scales said. “The church should not be considered to stand alongside Mickey Mouse.”

Several churches in California have banded together to sue the state for the right to reopen, and some have never closed.

Pastor Brenda Woods called the DOJ letter “validation.” Her church, Word of Life Ministries in Riverside, has been holding drive-in and online services.

“We’re making it work, we’re doing what we have to do,” she said.

But many of the functions of a church don’t work virtually, other pastors argue. They say, counseling worshiper through family, financial and health problems caused by the pandemic depends on focused, face-to-face interaction.

Danny Carroll, pastor of Water of Life Community Church in Fontana, says he plans to reopen for in-person services on May 31 along with more than 1,000 other churches — with or without Newsom’s blessing.

“We’re not just gonna keep being pushed out of the conversation,” he said.

Newsom has not commented on the letter, other than to say he has received it.

President Donald Trump weighed in on the issue Thursday.

“The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat governors. I wanna get our churches open, and we’re gonna take a very strong position on that soon,” he said.

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