Benicia retired pastor to friends and neighbors: DON’T GO TO RELIGIOUS SERVICES!

[Editor: Well, if you didn’t know, I’m the retired pastor.  And I don’t even know if any of Benicia’s anti-mask-don’t-tread-on-me folks are planning to attend religious services.  But if they are… DON’T JOIN THEM, DON’T GO!  The story below is living, coughing, deadly proof from nearby.  Oh, and… most faith communities are streaming worship, and the Governor has just today issued new guidelines for very limited religious gatherings, including funerals.  – R.S.]

More cases connected with worship services in Mendocino, Butte counties

San Francisco Chronicle, by Bob Egelko , Kate Galbraith and Lauren Hernández May 24, 2020
Bishop Marc Andrus bows before the altar while rehearsing virtual Easter Sunday service at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, April 12, 2020.
Bishop Marc Andrus bows before the altar while rehearsing virtual Easter Sunday service at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, April 12, 2020. Photo: Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

As religious leaders await new rules from Gov. Gavin Newsom that could allow houses of worship to reopen with social-distancing adjustments, concern is mounting in Mendocino and Butte counties as more coronavirus cases tied to churches there have emerged.

Mendocino County health officer Dr. Noemi Doohan said Friday that her county’s six most recent confirmed cases were all connected to an outbreak at Redwood Valley Assembly of God. The county had previously reported that three people — including the pastor — who participated in a live-streamed Mother’s Day service at the church had contracted the virus. Most parishioners did not attend the service in person.

“When we have an outbreak of such a large magnitude, it’s very concerning because we know that these individuals have had other contacts since contracting the disease,” Doohan said.

In addition, a second case out of a Butte County Mother’s Day church service has emerged, according to the Chico Enterprise-Record. More than 180 people attended the service, which was held in violation of the state’s shelter-in-place orders. One attendee had tested positive not long after the service. On Thursday, county Public Information Officer Lisa Almaguer said a second person tested positive, the Enterprise-Record reported.

Butte County has 34 coronavirus cases. Dr. Andy Miller, the county health officer, said in a video update Friday that Butte officials have seen a “pretty dramatic increase in cases,” though he did not say whether any additional cases were connected with the church.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to announce a schedule Monday for the resumption of in-person services, with social-distancing adjustments. But that is not soon enough for some California pastors, who want to be able to hold services at a time of rising spiritual needs.

On Friday, a divided federal appeals court refused to order Newsom to allow in-person services at this stage of the pandemic.

Over a dissent by an appointee of President Trump, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied an injunction sought by a Pentecostal church and its pastor in San Diego County, who argued that Newsom was violating freedom of religion by refusing to allow churches and other places of worship to reopen.

Upholding a federal judge’s refusal to allow immediate reopening of the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, the appeals court said Newsom’s decisions have not selectively targeted or burdened religious conduct.

“We’re dealing here with a highly contagious and often fatal disease for which there is presently no known cure,” Judges Barry Silverman and Jacqueline Nguyen said in the 2-1 ruling.

In dissent, Judge Daniel Collins said the state was probably violating the religious freedom of the church, its pastor and members.

Newsom’s defenders are making an “extraordinary claim that the current emergency gives the governor the power to restrict any and all constitutional rights, as long as he has acted in ‘good faith,’” Collins said.