Justice Department Calls on San Francisco Mayor to End “One Congregant” Rule for Places of Worship to Comply with the Constitution

The Justice Department on Friday sent a letter to San Francisco mayor explaining that the city’s policy of only allowing a single worshiper in places of worship regardless of their size, while allowing multiple patrons in other indoor settings including gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons, massage studios, and daycare’s, is contrary to the Constitution and the nation’s best tradition of religious freedom.


The Justice Department on Friday sent a letter to San Francisco mayor explaining that the city’s policy of only allowing a single worshiper in places of worship regardless of their size, while allowing multiple patrons in other indoor settings including gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons, massage studios, and daycare’s, is contrary to the Constitution and the nation’s best tradition of religious freedom.

The letter, sent by Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, David Anderson, explains that San Francisco’s policy of treating secular businesses more favorably than houses of worship is “wholly at odds with this nation’s traditional understanding of religious liberty, and may violate the First Amendment,” and calls on the mayor to take action to treat places of worship equally with other venues where people share enclosed spaces.

“No government in this free country can attack religion by transforming a house of worship arbitrarily into a place for solitary confinement. People of faith go to churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places to worship with their fellow believers, and they can do so lawfully because the First Amendment to the United States Constitution makes illegal any effort by government to prohibit the free exercise of religion,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “That we are dealing with a very serious public health crisis does not permit government to discriminate against religious worshipers by imposing a one-person-per-house-of-worship rule while permitting larger numbers of people to gather in tattoo parlors, hair salons, massage studios, and other places. There is no pandemic exception to the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights.” 

While continuing to enforce the one-congregant rule, San Francisco allows patrons at gyms, hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors, and massage studios so long as 6-foot distancing is followed. Gyms are allowed to open at 10 percent of capacity, daycares to operate with 10 to 12 children per class, and retail establishments generally can operate at 50 percent of capacity. 

The letter calls on the city to immediately equalize its treatment of places of worship to comply with the First Amendment.

On April 27, 2020, Attorney General William P. Barr directed Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Eric Dreiband, and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew Schneider, to review state and local policies to ensure that civil liberties are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Blogs to Follow:

Justice.gov (September 2020)  Justice Department Calls on San Francisco Mayor to End “One Congregant” Rule for Places of Worship to Comply with the Constitution

Turkish Pastor’s American Wife Denied Visa

Turkish pastor’s American wife, Joy Subaşıgüller, received notice from Turkey’s Ministry of Interior that her family visa was denied. No specific reason was given. Joy has lived in Turkey for nearly 10 years and has been married to her Turkish husband, Lütfü, for seven years.


Authorities Continue Discrimination of Protestant Christians

International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on June 5, 2020, a Turkish pastor’s American wife, Joy Subaşıgüller, received notice from Turkey’s Ministry of Interior that her family visa was denied.

No specific reason was given. Joy has lived in Turkey for nearly 10 years and has been married to her Turkish husband, Lütfü, for seven years.

Their three children (ages 4, 2, and 4 months) are Turkish citizens. The family has opened a court case (#2020/988 – Ankara First Administrative Court) contesting the government’s decision.

Over the past few years, Turkey has forced many foreign Christians to leave the country through the systematic denial or cancellation of residence permits and the application of entry bans.

Last year, at least 35 foreign Protestants received such notices. In many cases, vague security reasons are cited, but not explained.

It is believed that Turkey has denied extending Joy’s family visa for no other reason than that the family is Christian, and that it is an attempt to force the whole family to leave the country.

“Turkey is my home. I love Turkey and the Turkish people very much. My family has very strong ties with Turkish friends here and especially with Lütfü’s family who would be devastated if we had to permanently relocate to another country,” Joy shared with ICC.

“Many foreign Protestant Christians (including many Americans) have been forced to leave Turkey and issued an entry ban on the grounds that their Christian activities are a ‘threat to national security and public order’ even though their activities are legal. In fact, some Protestants have been denied residency just because they attended meetings such as the annual Turkish Protestant Association family conference and a seminar concerning how to legally and effectively serve Christian children in the church,” she continued.

“Freedom of religion is a right granted in Turkey’s constitution and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which Turkey has signed,” Joy added. “We ask and pray that this right would be upheld in the Turkish courts and enforced in all areas of government.”

Istanbul’s Protestant Church Association also issued a statement regarding the country’s treatment of Christian leaders, including the Subaşıgüllers. The statement said, “It is with great sadness that we have to report that since 2019 it has been made more difficult for foreign clergy who serve the Protestant Church community in Turkey to be resident in our country, and that our requests for information concerning this matter have not received a satisfactory reply. While we hope that this is just a mistake and it will be rectified, we felt it necessary to issue a press statement to share with you how this situation has saddened us so deeply.”

In its annual report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended Turkey for a special watch list because of increasing religious freedom violations.

A recent International Religious Freedom Report released by the US State Department also cited Turkey for religious freedom violations that include the targeting of foreign Christians living within the country.

Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “We join with the Subaşıgüllers in seeking prayers for the ongoing court case that appeals the decision made by Turkey’s Interior Ministry. That Turkey would threaten to separate a family for no other reason than that they are Christians is alarming. We ask that Turkey speedily review their appeal with full transparency and in accordance with the country’s own international commitments to protecting human rights.”

Blogs to Follow:

Persecution.org (June 2020) Turkish Pastor’s American Wife Denied Visa

Religious Rights Violations in China Worse than Reported


The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2020 report has once again put China as one of the top three countries of “particular concern.”

According to UCA News, Chinese Christian leaders echo that the space for religious freedom has severely shrunk in the past two decades, with the communist regime implementing a series of policies aiming to eradicate religion from society.

They also stressed that religious oppression in China is more severe than what is reported.

In provinces all over China, Christian schools, teachers, and business owners are forced to sign documents to reject their religion, or the government will retrieve their pensions. Local authorities had raided or seized hundreds of Christian house churches.

Cross removal continues to take place despite these churches’ official affiliation.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has also charged pastors with subversion of state power, although such sentencing is unconstitutional according to their own laws.

Many Catholic dioceses have been harassed by authorities, clergy are jailed for refusing to join the state-approved Catholic Church. There are also reports that CCP officials are offering cash rewards to incentivize spying and reporting on underground house churches.

While China denies these allegations, Father Thomas Wang told UCA News that China has never responded well to religious persecution accusations, the government either avoids them or evades the question altogether and accuses others of interfering with internal issues.

Maria Li in Guangdong also said China is no longer worried about international pressure and condemnation, as they have bribed small countries and organizations to defend China.

However, she hopes that the international community will not overlook China’s violations on religious freedom and human rights. “If more countries unite and put pressure on China, authorities will desist from blatant oppression, which will help the Church to breathe,” she said.

For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications at Coordinator: press@persecution.org

Persecution.org (May 2020) Religious Rights Violations in China Worse than Reported