Court Battles

California church going to Supreme Court over in-person restrictions

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A church in California is petitioning the Supreme Court to block California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) order restricting in-person services amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The South Bay Pentecostal Church, represented by the conservative law firm Thomas More Society, filed an initial petition over the weekend arguing that the restrictions are a “blatant violation” of the First Amendment.  

“These most essential liberties and fundamental freedoms are prescribed at the very outset of our Bill of Rights. California’s four stage Reopening Plan permits manufacturing, warehousing, retail, offices, seated dining at restaurants, and schools to reopen, but bans places of worship from holding church services,” Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, said in a statement.

“On its face this plan is a blatant violation of the Free Exercise Clause of our First Amendment,” he added. 

In a 2-1 decision last week, California’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found in Newsom’s favor against the South Bay United Pentecostal Church. 

Churches in California were ordered to shut when Newsom issued a stay-at-home order on March 19.

On Monday, the governor announced guidelines allowing churches to reopen for in-person services, at 25 percent capacity, with approval from county public health officials, but the Bay Area has yet to lift restrictions on people meeting for worship services. 

A lawyer for the Thomas More Society reportedly said its challenge to the Supreme Court would be amended but go forward. 

“Based on a quick review of the California guidelines for a variety of industries, from food packing to manufacturing to indoor shopping centers, none have anywhere as strict a set of capacity controls as have been put on churches,” Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel of the Thomas More Society, told CNN Monday night. “The next closest appears to be shopping centers, at 50% of capacity.”

President Trump last week ordered governors to allow houses of worship to open immediately and warned that he would override them if they did not do so.

Tags California church Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Gavin Newsom place of worship Social distancing Thomas More Society
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