SCOTUS Gives Reprieve to California Church Battling Newsom's Lockdown Orders

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Posted: Dec 03, 2020 2:50 PM
SCOTUS Gives Reprieve to California Church Battling Newsom's Lockdown Orders

Source: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The Supreme Court handed down a win, at least a temporary one, to a California church that claims Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom's coronavirus restrictions are discriminatory against places of worship. 

On Thursday, the Supreme Court vacated a District Court ruling against Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, California. The high court instructed the lower court to reconsider its California ruling after the Supreme Court sided with New York church groups in a different case. In that case, the justices found Gov. Cuomo's restrictions were harsher on places of worship than secular establishments. 

"The September 2 order of the United States District Court for the Central District of California is vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit with instructions to remand to the District Court for further consideration in light of Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo," the Supreme Court ordered.

(Via Fox News) 

In California there is a tiered system that places different levels of restrictions on different counties, but as of Nov. 21, 41 counties in the state — representing 94% of the state’s population — were under the most restrictive regulations that include the prohibition of all indoor religious services. Services in other counties have strict caps on the number of people permitted. The state issued specific guidance to places of worship earlier this year.

The church's legal argument is based primarily on the First Amendment. Under the amendment's Free Exercise Clause, the church claims, Newsom's order is illegal because restricts the size of religious gatherings while treating non-religious groups and activities differently.

The church also cites case law surrounding the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause that says that the government cannot “force or influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will.” The church claims that imposing criminal penalties on people who go to a house of worship influences them to stay away.

Earlier this year, the pastor of Harvest Rock Church, Che Ahn, continued to hold indoor services in violation of Gov. Newsom's restrictions. Worshipers were accused of not wearing face masks and failing to practice rules regarding social distancing. 

Pasadena Assistant Prosecutor Michael P. Dowd threatened to press criminal charges against the pastor and his congregation for failing to comply with the governor's edicts. 

"This letter is to remind you that violations of these Orders are criminal in nature," the prosecutor warned. "Each day in violation is a separate violation and carries with it a potential punishment of up to one year in jail and a fine for each violation."

"Any violations in the future will subject your Church, owners, administrators, operators, staff, and parishioners to the above-mentioned criminal penalties as well as the potential closure of your Church."

Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and attorney representing Harvest Rock Church, pointed out at that city leaders had no qualms when it came to protesters in the streets and said that his client would continue holding religious services. 

Gov. Newsom is one of several Democrats caught flouting his own coronavirus restrictions in recent weeks. The governor was spotted at a large birthday celebration held at the ritzy French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley.