California Gov. Gavin Newsom has been ordered by a federal judge to pay $1.35 million for the lockdown of 3,000 churches amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has been deemed discriminatory.
Newsom is required to pay the costs and attorney fees for a lawsuit from Harvest Rock Church that went to the United States Supreme Court. The judge said Newsom and other state officials cannot regulate church attendance unless certain dire circumstances laid out were to arise, which is not likely.
U.S. District Court Judge Jesus G. Bernal ruled that limitations on church gatherings can only be imposed if child infections rise 100 percent, cases in the state are at a minimum of 26 per 100,000 people or available ICU hospital bed capacity drops to under 20 percent.
California may only place restrictions on churches if they are identical to other social gatherings.
Any new public health precautions on religious worship services and gatherings at places of worship not in the guidance [are included].
Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm that represented the church, told the Washington Examiner that Newsom was is the "worst governor in America” when it comes to religious freedom.
The church stayed open [during the lockdown], and the pastor and parishioners were threatened with daily criminal charges that were up to a year in prison.
The COVID-19 lockdown, which began on March 19, 2020, only permitted essential businesses to keep their doors open. Churches were forced to shut down. If they refused, the owners would face harsh penalties. Newsom allowed churches to open at 25 percent capacity in late May, but only if the number of building occupants did not exceed 100 people.
However, this easing of restrictions was quickly reversed as another lockdown was imposed in the summer of 2020 and lasted until April 2021. Newsom also added new restrictions on singing, outdoor churches and Bible studies.
Restrictions were only lifted after orders from the Supreme Court.
Harvest Rock, whose representatives said it saw itself as an essential business, has stayed fully open since May 31, 2020, according to the Examiner.
Staver told the news outlet:
Gov. Newsom’s COVID restrictions intentionally discriminated against churches while providing preferential treatment to many secular businesses and gatherings. What’s important is this ruling is permanent. He cannot ever do this again.