Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric Dreiband and U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams issued the following statement:
“We thank Governor Kate Brown for extending religious freedom protections to people of faith as part of Phase 2 of the Reopening Oregon Plan. Places of worship in counties that qualify for Phase 2 will be able, based on an order issued by the governor Thursday, to hold gatherings with social distancing and hygiene measures for up to 250 people, depending on the size of the facility. Phase 1 raised some concerns about discrimination against places of worship by limiting them to 25 congregants, regardless of social distancing and hygiene measures, while allowing restaurants and fitness classes to operate with no numerical cap so long as they engaged in social distancing and adhered to hygiene measures. Governor Brown’s new guidelines will allow places of worship that choose to reopen with the flexibility they need to serve their congregations while undertaking social distancing and hygiene protocols.
“The right to the free exercise of religion is one of our most cherished rights, and the Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that this right, and other fundamental rights, are preserved during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Attorney General Barr has stated, ‘even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers.’ The Department of Justice will continue to prioritize Attorney General Barr’s Memorandum regarding Balancing Public Safety with the Preservation of Civil Rights.
“We look forward to continuing to work with Governor Brown, and other Governors”