Supreme Court Rejects California Gov. Newsom’s Pandemic Church Restrictions

Supreme Court Rejects California Gov. Newsom’s Pandemic Church Restrictions
California Gov. Gavin Newsom in Oakland, Calif., on June 9, 2020. (Associated Press Pool)
Matthew Vadum

The Supreme Court issued a decision Dec. 3 siding with California churches that are seeking relief from the state’s heavy-handed COVID-19 restrictions on attendance at houses of worship.

The decision is the second in two weeks slapping down overreaches by Democratic governors in populous states related to combating the CCP virus, which causes COVID-19. It also follows the arrival on the bench of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a constitutional conservative confirmed by the U.S. Senate before Election Day.
The decision comes after the Supreme Court blocked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, from enforcing tough pandemic-related restrictions on attendance at houses of worship. That 5–4 unsigned opinion, in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, which came on Nov. 25, also applies to another case, Agudath Israel of America v. Cuomo, as The Epoch Times has previously reported.

The office of Gov. Gavin Newsom didn't immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court in opposition to the injunction request, Newsom had argued that the policy on church attendance was justified on public health grounds.

The law firm acting in the California case was ecstatic at the new ruling.

“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court provides great relief for churches and places of worship,” said Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a public interest law firm that represents the churches in the lawsuit.

“The handwriting is now on the wall. The final days of Governor Gavin Newsom’s ‘color-coded executive edicts’ banning worship are numbered and coming to an end. It is past time to end these unconstitutional restrictions on places of worship.”

The emergency application for an injunction was filed Nov. 23 and addressed to Justice Elena Kagan in her capacity as circuit justice for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Kagan referred the matter to the full court. The applicants were Harvest Rock Church Inc. and Harvest International Ministry Inc., on behalf of its 162 member churches in California.

Harvest Rock churches have been threatened with criminal prosecution, fines, and closure, according to Liberty Counsel. For example, the City of Pasadena has threatened criminal charges against pastors, staff, and parishioners.

The high court’s order was unsigned and not accompanied by dissenting opinions, suggesting the justices’ vote on it was unanimous.

“The application for injunctive relief ... is treated as a petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment, and the petition is granted,” the court stated in a one-page order. In other words, the court agreed to hear the case—which the applicants hadn't requested—and then acted as though the case had been heard.
The Supreme Court vacated a Sept. 2 order issued by Judge Jesus G. Bernal, an Obama appointee, who refused the churches’ request to enjoin Newsom’s policy.

The high court also sent the case back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals “with instructions to remand to the District Court for further consideration in light of Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo.”

California imposed new lockdown regulations Nov. 19, issuing “a limited stay-at-home order imposing a one-month prohibition against non-essential work and gatherings in [affected] counties from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.” The new surge in COVID-19 infections “threatens to overwhelm the State’s healthcare system, preventing it from treating COVID-19 patients and others requiring [intensive care unit] care.”

Liberty Counsel denounced Newsom in the brief it filed with the Supreme Court.

“For over nine months, the Governor has continued to discriminate against Churches’ religious worship services while permitting myriad nonreligious entities to continue to gather without numerical restrictions inside the same house of worship and in other external comparable congregate assemblies; publicly encouraging and supporting mass protestors, rioters, and looters to gather without numerical restriction in blatant disregard for his own Orders; and has purported to prohibit religious worship services—even in the private homes of Californians—despite the fundamental protections enshrined in the First Amendment.

“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,” the application states.

Underneath those words, the applicants inserted a photo of Newsom, mask-less and not social-distancing, at the pricey French Laundry restaurant with a crowd of diners. The photo was published Nov. 17 by Fox 11.

“For the Governor, COVID-19 restrictions are apparently optional and penalty free,” the application continues.

“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. If Churches host a religious gathering (of even 2 people) in their own church, the Orders impose criminal sanction.”