California Governor Gavin Newsom is literally paying the price for locking down churches in his state. Newsom was ordered by the courts to pay a Los Angeles Church more than $1.3 million after he told the congregation they must shut down because of COVID.
U.S. District Court Judge Jesus G. Bernal has ordered Newsom to “cover the legal expenses of Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal organization that filed the lawsuit on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry against the Democratic governor of California.”
In a written statement, Liberty Counsel said, “Under the settlement, California may no longer impose discriminatory restrictions upon houses of worship…This is the first state-wide permanent injunction in the country against COVID restrictions on churches and places of worship. Under the agreed state-wide permanent injunction, all California churches may hold worship without discriminatory restrictions.”
Founder of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, Reverend Che Ahn also applauded the settlement, saying that “after nearly a yearlong battle defending our religious freedoms, our lawsuit has reached a permanent settlement in our favor.” He added, “I am thrilled to see the complete reversal of the last discriminatory restrictions against churches in California.”
The judge’s decision comes after the Supreme Court repeatedly slapped down Newsom’s unconstitutional limits on free speech and church worship.
Last month, 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.
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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.
“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.”