Supreme Court Stops California From Locking Down Church, Banning Singing During Worship

State   |   Tom Ciesielka   |   Apr 27, 2021   |   6:17PM   |   Washington, DC

Thomas More Society and South Bay United Pentecostal Church have achieved what can now be called a complete victory at the United States Supreme Court with an April 26, 2021, order vacating the Ninth Circuit’s prior erroneous judgment in the case.

The San Diego area church and its pastor, Rev. Arthur E. Hodges II, sued California Governor Gavin Newsom for COVID prompted discrimination that denied them the right to hold indoor worship services. The governor’s executive orders also put limits on the number of people that could gather for worship and prohibited singing during services.

Thomas More Society Special Counsel Paul Jonna, partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP, called the high court order the “final nail in the coffin” burying Newsom’s unconstitutional chokehold on California churches.

The April 26 order was the latest in a series of triumphs that South Bay has been handed by the United States Supreme Court. On February 5, 2021, the high court awarded the church an historic victory, when it struck down California’s indoor worship ban. Following that decision and the ruling in Tandon v. Newsom (which forbid the state from enforcing COVID–19 restrictions on small group Bible studies and prayer meetings), on April 12, 2021, California announced that it abandoned all capacity limits on churches. On April 23, 2021, Newsom’s administration announced a lifting of all restrictions on congregational singing and chanting in church.

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“The most recent April 26 ruling vacating the Ninth Circuit’s prior judgment is another major victory for religious liberty,” declared Jonna. “And it sends yet another clear message to hostile lower courts: if you deprive citizens of constitutional rights, particularly the cherished right to the Free Exercise of Religion, the U.S. Supreme Court will intervene.”

Jonna explained that the effect of having the decision “vacated” means that the prior judgment (by the Ninth Circuit) is erroneous and has no legal weight. Lower courts must now follow what Jonna labels “the unmistakably clear guidance from the United States Supreme Court,” as demonstrated in multiple recent cases.

Jonna reflected on the South Bay lawsuit and others that grew out of Governor Newsom’s overreach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For decades, the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that an ‘emergency does not increase granted power,’ and they have specifically come down against excessive gubernatorial overreach during the coronavirus pandemic,” stated Jonna. “It is time for the United State Constitution to be honored in the State of California and we thank the high court for upholding religious liberty and acting on South Bay’s behalf.”

Read more about the Thomas More Society’s representation of the Chula Vista church in South Bay United Pentecostal Church, et al v. Gavin Newsom, et al., here []