California pastor claims state has 'discriminated against,' 'denigrated' churches in reopening plan

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Bishop Arthur Hodges, pastor of South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, Calif., joined "The Story" Wednesday to discuss his emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that California Gov. Gavin Newsom is violating the First Amendment by not allowing his church to reopen without restrictions.

"It's a fight not only for the rights of the church I pastor and other churches that I am responsible for, but all of the churches in California, really across the nation that have been discriminated against in the reopening plans of states where they are allowing other essential and even nonessential entities to open," Hodges told host Martha MacCallum. "And they're not allowing churches to open."

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Newsom on Monday released guidelines for reopening houses of worship amid the coronavirus pandemic after President Trump deemed them “essential” on Friday.

Under the governor’s guidelines, churches and other houses of worship can reopen if county health officials approve. However, attendance must be limited to 25 percent of capacity or 100 people, whichever number is fewer.

California churches in California must also set out physical distancing guidelines, establish new cleaning and disinfection protocols, encourage all attendees to wear face masks and set parameters for singing and group recitations.

Hodges says he doesn't believe Newsom is specifically targeting churches but questions why places of worship have been ignored in the state's reopening plan.

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"That's what we meant in our filing when we said we've been denigrated," Hodges said. "Until just a day or two ago, we've been left in stage three with no date to open, still yet to be determined, while factories continue to operate with no restrictions on how many people [can be] in the factories, hundreds of people in the factories spaced just a few feet apart, airplanes continue to fly with zero state or federal regulations."

A San Diego federal judge and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Hodges' civil rights lawsuit earlier this month.

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