A California church that police shut down on Palm Sunday for allegedly disobeying coronavirus health restrictions filed a lawsuit this month accusing Gov. Gavin Newsom and local authorities of violating its fundamental rights.
The Sacramento Bee reports the Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi and Pastor Jonathan Duncan argue in the lawsuit that Newsom and San Joaquin County health officials abused their authority through the public health restrictions.
“Civil rights are not suspended by a virus,” the lawsuit states. “Fundamental and unalienable rights are, by their very nature, ‘essential.’”
The National Center for Law & Policy in Escondido is representing the pastor and church. It recently filed the lawsuit in federal court in Sacramento.
“[California] does not have the authority to disregard well-established religious tenets relating to gatherings and method of worship,” the lawsuit states. “Yet the State of California has, in a sweeping abuse of its power, criminalized all religious assembly and communal religious worship while allowing citizens to gather at a liquor store, pot-dispensary, Planned Parenthood … and many other locations which are deemed ‘essential.’”
The lawsuit says police stopped Duncan from holding a service on Palm Sunday at the church. According to the California Family Council, a county health official also issued a “specific order preventing Duncan from returning to the property even to record online services or use the parking lot for a drive-in service.”
Duncan said he did follow the governor’s social distancing requirements; he required attendees to sanitize their hands and asked the elderly, ill and people with compromised immune systems to stay home. He said he believed the church still had the constitutional right to meet.
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“We love people and don’t want anyone to become infected,” the pastor said. “With the health and safety standards we have put in place we are a much lower risk of coronavirus spread than Walmart with its narrow aisles and everyone touching everything.”
The lawsuit argues that Duncan and his church were specifically targeted by the April 3 county order.
“At the same time, a purportedly ‘essential’ day care center on the same church property is able to continue to operate on-site,” the lawsuit states. “The church is therefore banned even from making video recordings for church services streamed over the internet.
“If the church wanted to have a ‘drive-in service,’ which is also permissible under Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home executive order … it is prohibited from doing so by the April 3, 2020 county order,” it continues. “This absolute government ban on any and all of the church’s religious worship activity is ‘beyond all reason’ unconstitutional.”
The lawsuit is one of many challenging state and local leaders’ restrictions on church services and other activity deemed “non-essential” during the health crisis.
Last week, three other California churches also filed a lawsuit against Newsom, a pro-abortion Democrat, after he exempted abortion facilities but not churches from his stay-at-home mandate.
Religious leaders have seen similar restrictions in other states. Earlier this April, police fined members of a Mississippi church $500 each for attending a drive-in service. Supposedly, they violated a social distancing order even though the church, Temple Baptist in Greenville, required attendees to stay in their vehicles with the windows up and listen to the worship service on their radios, according to the Washington Times.
In Kentucky, police showed up at another church service and recorded the license plate numbers of those who attended, left notices on their windshields, and warned people to quarantine for 14 days or else face “further enforcement measures,” according to USA Today.
A Florida pastor also was arrested in March for holding church services in alleged violation of current health crisis restrictions.
Meanwhile, abortion facilities can continue aborting unborn babies unhindered in most states. Yet, pro-life sidewalk counselors are being fined and arrested for offering information and resources to pregnant moms as they go into these abortion facilities.
Earlier this month, David Benham and several others were arrested for praying outside an abortion clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina. Police in San Francisco also cited a pro-life sidewalk counselor who was doing outreach outside a Planned Parenthood abortion facility. A Michigan man also received a citation for standing alone outside a Detroit abortion facility; however, the city dropped the citation after he filed a lawsuit.