FAITH AND THE PANDEMIC « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


State and Local Governments Now Agree Churches Are Essential

Setting aside the vital importance of people’s spiritual ties in times of need, California (echo’ing the feds) had regarded churches “non-essential” from the March 19 start of its safer-at-home orders.  As pandemic pressure has eased and public demands have increased, the state has now acknowledged the religion’s role in pandemic recovery: COVID-19 “Industry” Guidance for Places of Worship and Providers of Religious Worship and Cultural Ceremonies (May 25, 2020) (Guidance).

The County and City of Los Angeles swiftly followed suit, adopting an amended Appendix F Protocol for Places of Worship to their public health orders (Orders). As the city put it: houses of worship “provide services that are recognized to be critical to the health and well-being of [Los Angeles].”

The Guidance and both Orders require religious groups to limit capacity to the lower of 25 percent of maximum allowed occupancy or 100 people.

The Guidance includes 13 pages of standards from social distancing, wearing masks, cleaning, and excluding persons who are ill to church-specific protocols such as not passing collection plates but allowing digital offerings or other safe drop boxes, shortening services, and avoiding singing and group recitation, which can cause droplets to spread.

Appendix F contains similar requirements and suggestions in checklist form for houses of worship.

The California Department of Public Health is to revisit the Guidance by June 15 for its public health impact and for phased restoration to full activity.

Permitting religious providers to re-open, albeit on a limited basis thus far, will help seekers receive spiritual guidance in the pandemic’s wholesale uprooting of people’s lives.

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For more information about these laws or other employment issues related to coronavirus, contact Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

Helena Kobrin

June 4, 2020