SAN FRANCISCO—On Tuesday Sept. 29, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced in a statement that restrictions on church worship would be eased. She said the city would allow the reopening of indoor dining and placed of worship at 25% capacity or up to 100 people, starting on Wednesday Sept. 30.

London Breed’s Tweet on September 29 on loosening restrictions on indoor activity in houses of worship and restaurants.
(Courtesy of London Breed’s Twitter account)

Previously, the city government only allowed one person at a time to enter a church for prayer. Under the Health and Safety Plan issued on September 30 by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, houses of worship can resume indoor operations with the stipulated capacity. The limit of outdoor worship service attendance was increased from 50 to 200 people. Singing or chanting indoors continues to be prohibited, since singing indoors is a known source of COVID-19 spread.” The meetings are required to be no longer than two hours. 

Loosening restrictions on indoor and outdoor activity, including restaurants, malls, theaters and houses of worship, came as the State of California assigned the City and County of San Francisco to tier “orange,” in the four-tiered state reopening system. Under the “orange tier,” which is labeled as moderate, “some indoor business operations” are open with modifications. Daily new cases under the moderate tier, are at a rate of 1-3.9 per 100,000 people. Positive test results for the moderate tier are at a rate of 2-4.9%. 

“We know this continues to be a challenging time with people struggling economically and emotionally. However, thanks to San Francisco’s commitment to following public health guidance, we are seeing improvements in our numbers, which means we can continue to move forward with reopening,” said Mayor Breed in the press release. 

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone thanked Mayor Breed for lifting restrictions on church worship. Cordileone attributed the change in policy to the efforts of tens of thousands of Catholics who mobilized in activities including signing an online petition on the “Free the Mass” campaign website, writing opinion articles or letters to the editor in protest of the “arbitrary” and “draconian” house of worship restrictions, and participating in the Archdiocese-organized protest at City Hall and the Cathedral of St. Mary the Assumption on September 22.

San Francisco protesters hold up placards.

“I want to thank Mayor London Breed for recognizing that faith is essential. As well, I want to thank the thousands of San Francisco Catholics and others who joined the processions, the more than 35,000 who signed the petition at, came to St. Mary Cathedral’s outdoor plaza to witness to our faith, wrote letters to the editor or op-eds, and who generally spoke up with one united voice under the banner: We are essential! Free the Mass!,” said Cordileone on the Free the Mass! campaign website.

“Free the Mass” cover photo on campaign website.
(Courtesy of

The San Francisco Archdiocese thanked Mayor London Breed for the updated guidelines and loosening restrictions, but said the petition effort has not ended. 

“The state of California’s limit of no more than 100 people inside of a house of worship regardless of the size of the building is still unjust,” Cordileone said on the campaign website

“We want and we intend to worship God safely: with masks, social distancing, sanitation, ventilation, and other such safety protocols. But we will not accept believers being treated more severely than other, comparable secular activities.”

The San Francisco Archdiocese plans to hold another public demonstration of faith on October 3 at the plaza of the Cathedral of St. Mary the Assumption plaza, which the Archbishop will lead in a candle lit rosary.

“We can now return to indoor worship in accordance with the guidelines of the State of California. We will continue to work to make sure that our right to worship is respected in equality with secular activities,” Cordileone said in a video thanking petition signers.

The loosening of restrictions was also attributed by San Francisco Archbishop Cordileone to a letter sent by the United States Department of Justice to San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Friday, September 25, calling on Mayor Breed to loosen the city’s guidelines on activity in places of worship. The letter called the limitation of indoor worship to one congregant regardless of the size of the place discriminatory, draconian, and arbitrary. The DOJ mentioned the city permitted activity in other indoor settings including gyms, hair salons, day cares, and tattoo parlors in far greater numbers despite the significant contact between service provider and customer.

Archdiocese of San Francisco shakes hand with Pope Francis, uploaded January 29, 2020.
(Courtesy of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Facebook page)

On Wednesday morning, Pastor Henry Tam from San Francisco Bible Church said the Archdiocese of San Francisco had a lot of political power and influence and said that probably the institution’s “big protest” on September 22 got the attention of the Department of Justice and Mayor London Breed. He also said he considered the City and County of San Francisco recently falling under the “orange” or “moderate” tier of the California reopening plan a major contributing factor.