Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone stands at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption on September 20, 2020 (Nicholas Chan/Special to S.F.Examiner)

U.S. Attorney threatens legal action against SF over limits on indoor church services

Federal authorities threatened to take action on Friday if San Francisco did not loosen its “draconian” ban on indoor religious gatherings that is meant to protect against the spread of coronavirus.

The ban limits the number of people who can worship inside a church, temple or mosque to one, while private businesses like gyms and fitness centers have been allowed to open at 10 percent capacity.

Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband and David Anderson, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, argued that the ban raises concerns about religious freedom and may violate the Constitution in a Friday letter to Mayor London Breed.

“These rules plainly discriminate against people of faith and their ability to gather and practice their faith at churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship,” the officials wrote. “Put simply, there is no scientific or legal justification for permitting a 20,000 square foot synagogue to admit only one worshipper while allowing a tattoo parlor to accommodate as many patrons as it can fit so long as they are six feet apart.”

The letter comes after the Roman Catholic Church led a protest on Sunday against the restrictions in San Francisco.

“There is no science that says only one person should be allowed to pray in churches such as the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, which seats 2,500 people,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of the Archdiocese Of San Francisco said in a statement. “There’s only one explanation for such a rule: a dislike of the Catholic Church.”

San Francisco currently has a goal to allow places of worship to open at 25 percent capacity indoors, or up to 25 people, by the end of September.

The federal officials argued Friday that even that goal would “continue to burden religious exercise severely and unnecessarily, including for houses of worship with large capacity and room for proper social distancing protocols.”

The Mayor’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Read the full letter here.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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