Courts order California to pay millions in legal fees to churches that challenged COVID restrictions

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on multiple lawsuits from California churches challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) tyrannical restrictions on religious gatherings. The high court determined that restrictions on religious gatherings couldn’t be more stringent than those on secular gatherings, issued temporary injunctions against those restrictions, and kicked the cases back down to the lower courts.

Now, those SCOTUS rulings have borne fruit for the churches, so to speak, as lower courts worked out settlements that will permanently enjoin future discriminatory restrictions while compelling the Democratic-run state to pay the legal fees of the churches that filed the lawsuits, the Washington Examiner reports.

The settlements also wipe away the compounding fines and threats of imprisonment that had been imposed by the state on the churches for violations of the COVID-19 restrictions.

Court-ordered settlements

Pasadena, California’s Patch reported that one of those federal court settlements involved the Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and affiliated Harvest International Ministry, which had sued California over pandemic-related church service occupancy limits that were stricter than those imposed on retail businesses and secular gatherings.

As part of the settlement reached, California will have to pay Harvest Rock Church $1.35 million for attorney’s fees and court costs.

“After nearly a yearlong battle defending our religious freedoms, our lawsuit has reached a permanent settlement in our favor,” founding pastor Rev. Ché Ahn said in a statement. “I am thrilled to see the complete reversal of the last discriminatory restrictions against churches in California.”

Fox News reported that a separate settlement was reached days later involving the San Diego-based South Bay United Pentecostal Church, along with a Bakersfield-based Catholic priest named Father Trevor Burfitt who had also sued the state over COVID-19 restrictions and won.

A federal court ordered the state to pay more than $2 million in legal fees for those two cases, with $1.6 million to the Thomas More Society that represented the South Bay church and $550,00 to the attorneys representing Father Burfitt.

“The dominoes are falling”

Liberty Counsel, which represented the Harvest Rock Church in the lawsuits, said in a press release that the settlements would likely cause a “domino effect” across the state and nation and result in the lifting of any remaining COVID-19-related restrictions on religious gatherings and services that weren’t in line with restrictions imposed on retail stores and secular gatherings.

It also noted that in addition to the lifting of and prohibition against future discriminatory restrictions — not to mention the dropping of fines imposed for violations — many of the churches and houses of worship that brought challenges stood to receive some measure of compensation from the state and/or cities and counties.

With the situation more or less settled in California, Liberty Counsel and other like-minded legal firms will turn their attention to rectifying remaining problems in other states still imposing discriminatory restrictions against religious gatherings, such as Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, and Virginia, to name a few.

“The dominoes are falling, and churches are being freed from dictatorial and unconstitutional restrictions,” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement to the Examiner. “The Supreme Court has intervened multiple times to provide relief. As a result, there will be more restrictions lifted and charges dropped for churches in the near future.”

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