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Norman amid coronavirus: Oklahoma attorney general calls for immediate reopening of Norman places of worship

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Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter called for Norman Mayor Breea Clark to include places of worship in phase one of her “Healthier at Home” plan this afternoon. 

According to a press release from the attorney general’s office, Clark currently plans for places of worship to reopen during Phase 1B, which is set to begin May 15. Hunter said Clark violates legal protections for the free exercise of religion and peaceful assembly by preventing places of worship from reopening. 

“I want to remind Mayor Clark that there are important limits on local authority to restrict activity protected by state and federal law, especially any attempt to impose a mandatory block of religious gatherings or a closure of houses of worship,” Hunter said in the release. “With updated state guidelines, religious services can go on as scheduled this weekend unless they are postponed or rescheduled by the religious institution itself.” 

Hunter said in the release that religious leaders should follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines and use their judgement to decide whether or not to reopen, and urged those that attend services to follow those same guidelines when deciding whether or not to attend. 

However, individuals who feel sick or think they have come into contact with someone with COVID-19 should stay home, Hunter said in the release. 

The city cannot discriminate against religious groups by shuttering churches while allowing other establishments — such as restaurants, gyms, retail stores, hair salons and massage and tattoo parlors — that pose the same or greater risk to open,” the release read.

Hunter tweeted a link to his statement this afternoon, adding that he wants to remind Clark of “important limits” on local authority to restrict activity protected by state and federal law, like imposing closures of houses of worship. 

The attorney general’s office updated the release later this afternoon to include a statement from March 14 allowing church services in the state to continue. 

“Consistent with state and federal legal safeguards, church services across the state can go on as normal tomorrow unless they are postponed or rescheduled by the church itself,” Hunter said in the earlier statement. “If the situation were to ever become so dire that church services needed to be cancelled by the government, all other similarly sized and situated gatherings would also need to be cancelled as well.” 

Hunter also said in the statement that his office will continue working with federal, state and local governments to provide assistance in addressing coronavirus issues as they evolve.

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