California governor barred from imposing coronavirus restrictions on churches

Gov.Gavin Newsom

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

The state of California has settled a lawsuit with Christian organizations over coronavirus restrictions placed on houses of worship, ending Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ability to close churches or limit their occupancy. [The Center Square]

Last year, Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal organization, filed suit on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry. Following multiple United States Supreme Court rulings against Newsom’s restrictions, Liberty Counsel and the California Attorney General’s Office submitted a final settlement last week to the district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

As a result of the settlement, the state of California is now under a permanent injunction from imposing restrictions on churches and houses of worship that are not equally applied to other critical infrastructure or essential services. Upon reaching the settlement, Newsom became the first governor in the United States to have a permanent injunction levied against him on behalf of houses of worship. 

Furthermore, Newsom must pay Liberty Counsel $1.35 million to cover its legal fees. 

The settlement references several Supreme Court opinions, including Harvest Rock Church v. Newsom. The Supreme Court ruled multiple times that restrictions imposed on houses of worship that were not imposed on nonreligious entities and activities are unconstitutional.

“Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID restrictions discriminated against churches while providing preferential treatment to many secular businesses and gatherings,” said Liberty Council founder and chairman, Matt Staver. “The Supreme Court intervened multiple times to provide relief. Under the settlement, California may never again place discriminatory restrictions on churches and places of worship. We are grateful for Pastor Che Ahn, Harvest Rock and Harvest International Ministry. Pastor Ahn’s leadership and courage has toppled the tyranny and freed every pastor and church in California.”

From March 19, 2020 to May 25, 2020, Newsom ordered the closure of all churches. From May 26, 2020 to July 12, 2020, Newsom mandated that churches be allowed to operate at no more than 25 percent capacity with no more than 100 people in attendance. 

More than 90 percent of Californians were still prohibited from worshiping together indoors until April 8, 2021. The restrictions included a yearlong ban on Californians participating in home bible studies and singing and chanting.

Newsom lifted the attendance limits on May 9, 2021.

California settled with Liberty Counsel and the legal organization filed for three emergency injunctions pending appeal at the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals, two oral arguments in front of a panel of three judges and two orders from the United States Supreme Court, including an injunction pending appeal issued on Feb. 5.

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