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Appeals court upholds California order keeping places of worship closed

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom speaks on day three of the Democratic National Convention at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 27, 2016. Hillary Clinton claims the Democratic Party's nomination for president. Photo by Ray Stubblebine/UPI
California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom speaks on day three of the Democratic National Convention at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 27, 2016. Hillary Clinton claims the Democratic Party's nomination for president. Photo by Ray Stubblebine/UPI | License Photo

May 24 (UPI) -- A federal court upheld California Gov. Gavin Newsom's restrictions on church services as part of the state's stay at home order as President Donald Trump has called governors throughout the country to reopen places of worship.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to keep the provision of the order that keeps churches and other places of worship closed in place, denying a request by the Sout Bay United Pentecostal Church.

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In their decision late Friday, Judges Jacqueline Nguyen and Barry Silverman wrote that the state's decision to close places of worship amid the COVID-19 pandemic does not "infringe upon or restrict practices because of their religious motivation" nor does it "impose burdens only on conduct motivated by religious belief" in a selective manner.

"We're dealing here with a highly contagious and often fatal disease for which there is presently no known cure," the judges wrote.

Judge Daniel Collins wrote a dissenting opinion stating that Newsom's order "illogically assumes that the very same people who cannot be trusted to follow the rules at their place of worship can be trusted to do so at their workplace."

The South Bay United Pentecostal Church filed an emergency motion on Saturday calling for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released guidelines for places of worship to reopen, including requiring that they provide hand sanitizer, encourage the use of facial coverings and enforce social distancing.

On Sunday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that he believes places of worship should be able to hold in-person services as long as they are taking "appropriate precautions."

"You sign up so that they don't get overcrowded. You get screened for temperature as well as symptoms as you come in, you socially distance among family units in the church," he said.

Trump on Friday identified churches, synagogues and mosques as "essential places that provide essential services, while also threatening he would override governors that do not take steps to reopen places of worship over the weekend.

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