Governor Gavin Newsom
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

May 2, 2020

Dear Governor Newsom,

I am the pastor of a small church in the rural community of Julian, California in eastern
San Diego County. I am writing to express my opposition to your most recent decision
for the phased reopening of California businesses and institutions which places
churches in the phase/stage 3 “higher risk workplaces” category alongside gyms, spas,
and salons. The projected reopening for stage 3 is said to be “months away”. I believe
this placement of the church in phase 3 is unwarranted, unconstitutional, &

First, the placing of churches in phase 3 is unwarranted in light of the most recent
statistics regarding the significant decline in the rate of transmission of the Coronavirus
and in the rate of mortality. As of April 29, 2020, of the 654,985 people tested, 2,073
have died. That is a .03 mortality rate (which is probably inflated given the fact that
many people who have contracted the virus are A-symptomatic or have recovered will
not be tested) which is in line with a typical flu season. National and global statistics
also support this parallel. According to Johns Hopkins University and the Centers for
Disease Control (CDC) total worldwide deaths from Covid-19 are, as of April 29:
225,927. This currently represents the LOW end of a typical flu season. In the United
States, currently, as of April 29 the CDC estimates that there have been between
24,000 and 62,000 Flu related deaths. Covid-19 inflated deaths in the US stand at
60,207. On April 28, you, Governor Newsom, stated, “We will base reopening plans on
facts and data, not on ideology. Not what we want. Not what we hope.” Governor,
statistically speaking, the numbers don’t lie. Given the latest statistics, one could
conclude that the worst has passed and we are on the path to stability.
In addition, I am certain that a church of our size (or any size for that matter) is able to
implement all the suggested practices/actions necessary for lowering the risk of
transmission of the virus including, but not limited to the following:

– Inform, instruct, and prepare our church leadership and administration in
all guidelines for pre-attendance, attendance, and post-attendance

– Send invitations to all parishioners to inform, instruct, and prepare them in
all guidelines for pre-attendance, attendance, and post-attendance
– Alter the physical layout of the church to amount to 1/5 the normal
capacity, create one way traffic flow, and clearly marked spacing for social

– Adhere to all CDC, Federal, State, and Local guidelines regarding
gatherings (Pre-existing conditions, Self health checks, Clothing sanitation,
PPE, etc….)

Secondly, I believe that the placement of the church in phase/stage 3 is
unconstitutional, in violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause which
states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the
press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government
for a redress of grievances”.

To be clear, I am not asking for a “special exemption” to the current public safety
measures, but I am asking that they be applied evenhandedly. Categorizing churches in
phase 3 of the reopening, while permitting retail chains and manufacturing to continue
to operate or reopen using social distancing measures constitutes a lack of “neutrality”
and an unfairness in the government’s treatment of religious institutions and
persons which imposes special burdens on religion and its adherents.
Finally, I believe that the placement of the church in phase/stage 3 is unbearable. This
past Tuesday, you spoke of restarting school in late July or early August, saying that
“the prospects of an earlier school year are warranted considering the prospect of
neglecting our next generation.” Shortly afterwards, you noted the need for physical
activity, suggesting that parks and trails may reopen soon. Combining these statements
with your decision to place churches in the same group with personal care businesses
like gyms, spas and salons shows that you affirm the importance of social, academic,
and physical development, but deny the importance of spiritual development. That is
both a short sighted and unwise decision.

In an article entitled, “How DC Churches Responded When the Government Banned
Church Gatherings during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918”, the author quotes an
editorial from Pastor J. Milton Waldron, who published an editorial on October 29,
1918, writing on behalf of “the eleven hundred members of Shiloh Baptist Church.” In
the article, Pastor Waldron expresses his members’ concern that the city officials are
carelessly “interfering with the freedom of religious worship.” In particular, his people
feel that “the authorities are woefully lacking in reverence to God and wanting in
a correct knowledge of the character and mission of the church when they place
it in the same class with poolrooms, dance halls, moving picture places, and
theaters….the Christian church is not a luxury, but a necessity to the life and
perpetuity of any nation.”
This observation was true 102 years ago and it is still true today.

Respectfully yours,
Tony Massa
Pastor, Hillside Community Church