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Former Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker told “Bill Hemmer Reports” Thursday that “there is no pandemic exception to our Bill of Rights” in response to authorities in several states restricting religious gatherings in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our religious freedoms are very important. For a lot of people with deeply held religious beliefs, going to the grocery store or going to any other of these essential services where people can safely distance is as important to them as going to church,” Whitaker said. ” … The same people that are going to the mosques and the churches and synagogues are also the ones going to the grocery stores [and] following these same safe practices.”
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“One of the important roles of the Department Justice and the Attorney General … is [being] solely responsible for protecting these religious liberties across the country,” Whitaker added.
More than 1,200 pastors in California plan on resuming in-person religious services on May 31, in defiance of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s temporary ban on religious gatherings.
A handful of New Jersey pastors have also said they are reopening in defiance of Gov. Phil Murphy’s stay-at-home orders because of their religious convictions and constitutional rights.
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On Wednesday, the city of Chicago announced that three churches were fined $500 for holding services with more than 10 people in attendance.
“I think you [can] expect not only civil disobedience on behalf of these people of faith,” Whitaker said, “but I think you will see judges in federal courts and U.S. attorneys in these federal districts enforcing these constitutional rights of these worshippers.
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“And so we need to make sure that we are not discriminating against and I think DOJ’s concern and [Attorney General] Bill Barr’s concern is that we are discriminating against people of faith who are the same people that are going to these grocery stores that are safely opening.”
Fox News’ Caleb Parke and David Aaro contributed to this report.