- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Justice Department Tuesday clapped back at New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio after his spokeswoman slammed a letter from department officials applauding Phase 2 of the city’s reopening plan.

Eric Dreiband, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, issued a statement Monday complementing Mr. de Blasio’s relaxing of coronavirus rules for houses of worship.

As part of the city’s Phase 2 reopening, — which was announced Friday — houses of worship could hold services at 25 percent of their capacity, a substantial increase from the fewer than 10 individuals who could attend services during Phase 1.

Mr. Dreiband welcomed the increase and credited a Justice Department letter sent Friday night for the action.

“Following action by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Mayor de Blasio provided much-needed relief for New Yorkers by moving New York City to Phase 2 of its reopening plan,” Mr. Dreiband said.

Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for the mayor immediately slammed the department’s statement, accusing it of trying to take credit for Mr. de Blasio’s decisions.

“This is dishonest even for the Trump Administration,” she wrote on Twitter. “The Mayor (& Gov) announced Friday morning that NYC would move to Phase 2 today. The Gov laid out the criteria for what that includes weeks ago. It’s all on record. The letter sent by DOJ Friday at 5 pm had absolutely no bearing.”

A Justice Department spokesperson fired back Tuesday saying it is still concerned that houses of worship may not receive the same treatment as secular businesses.

“The Department’s larger and more persistent concern is how the City enforces its reopening plan on the ground and if it does so in evenhanded fashion. Given widespread problems with the City’s approach under Phase 1, the Department can only hope Phase 2 is handled better,” the spokesperson said.

In the Department’s letter Friday evening, Mr. Dreiband scolded the mayor for what it said is a double standard. He wrote that the mayor had allowed large gatherings to protest the death of George Floyd, but still would not allow more people to attend religious services.

“In light of your support for and participation in recent protests in New York City, the message to the public from New York City’s government appears to favor certain secular gatherings and disfavor religious gatherings,” Mr. Dreiband wrote.

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