California churches take COVID restrictions challenge to Supreme Court

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom has imposed some of the country’s toughest coronavirus-related restrictions, and he announced last week that they would be ramping up in 41 of the state’s 58 counties.

The restrictions put churches and places of worship in a difficult spot, and multiple churches in the state have faced fines and jail threats for allowing indoor worship. On Friday, the Washington Examiner reported that two churches have turned to the nation’s highest court for help.  

According to the paper, Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry of Pasadena, California, have filed a complaint with the Supreme Court arguing that those rules run afoul of the First Amendment.

In their request for an emergency injunction, Harvest Rock Church said they have received letters “threatening up to 1 year in prison, daily criminal charges and $1,000 fines against the pastors, church, governing board, staff, and parishioners, which includes a threat to close the church.”

Unfair restrictions

“Emergency relief is needed now to prevent criminalizing constitutionally protected religious exercise,” the complaint declared, and contended that churches are being unfairly singled out.

It noted that the governor has permitted “myriad nonreligious entities to continue to gather without numerical restrictions inside the same house of worship.”

What’s more, the complaint alleges that Newsom has unofficially exempted the Black Lives Matter movement from his rules by “publicly encouraging and supporting mass protestors, rioters, and looters to gather without numerical restriction in blatant disregard for his own Orders.”

The complaint also pointed out that Newsom was recently caught attending a crowded indoor dinner gathering at an upscale restaurant. As photos published by a local Fox affiliate show, neither Newsom nor other attendees appeared to be wearing masks or social distancing.

“Despite his nine-month reign of executive edicts subjugating Californians to restrictions unknown to constitutional law, the Governor continues to impose draconian and unconscionable prohibitions on the daily life of all Californians that even the Governor disregards at his own whim,” it continued.

The complaint thus went on to allege that “COVID-19 restrictions are apparently optional and penalty-free” for the governor and those who he favors. “But for Churches or anyone worshipping in their own home with someone who does not live there, COVID-19 restrictions are mandatory and enforced via criminal penalties.”

Court previously sidestepped issue

The Washington Examiner observed that the Supreme Court has thus far been reluctant to get involved. Prior to the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s four liberal members to prevent two other challenges from being heard.

However, the outlet quoted Justice Samuel Alito as voicing criticism in a similar case from Nevada, where churches remained restricted while casinos were not, saying, “The state’s message is this: Forget about worship and head to the slot machines.”

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