Democrat Gavin Newsom, California’s lockdown-loving governor, in his official capacity must pay $1.35 million to a Los Angeles-area church to settle a long-running legal dispute over COVID-19 restrictions. The money will reimburse the church for attorney’s fees and court costs.
The settlement approved by a federal judge also reportedly includes a permanent injunction that prevents the governor from imposing any restrictions on houses of worship going forward.
Nonprofit law firm Liberty Counsel represented Pasadena’s Harvest Rock Church, which remained open during the lockdown despite the state’s threat to impose criminal charges, in the litigation.
“Governor Gavin Newsom’s COVID restrictions intentionally discriminated against churches while providing preferential treatment to many secular businesses and gatherings. The Supreme Court intervened multiple times to provide relief. California may never again place discriminatory restrictions on churches and places of worship,” Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver said in reacting to the settlement.
“After nearly a yearlong battle defending our religious freedoms, our lawsuit has reached a permanent settlement in our favor. I am thrilled to see the complete reversal of the last discriminatory restrictions against churches in California,” added the Rev. Ché Ahn, founding pastor of the church.
In March 2020, Newsom included churches in the list of so-called non-essential businesses that had to shut down during the virus outbreak. His administration subsequently capped church capacity at 25 percent with a maximum of 100 worshippers.
Last month, Newsom — who is facing a recall election later this year primarily over the draconian restrictions he imposed during the pandemic — lifted all capacity limits on houses of worship, in part because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that tossed out the state’s limits on indoor, at-home religious gatherings.
In February, Harvest Rock won a decision at the Supreme Court that allowed it to welcome up to 200 members but continued the state’s ban on singing and chanting.
Newsom is lifting most capacity and distancing restrictions for most businesses and activities on June 15, in what critics claim is a politically motivated, and too-little, too-late decision.
As far as religious institutions are concerned, the state’s guidance currently reads that “In response to recent judicial rulings, effective immediately, location and capacity limits on places of worship are not mandatory but are strongly recommended. Additionally, the restrictions on indoor singing and chanting are recommended only…”
In a statement about the settlement, a Newsom spokesperson claimed that “This settlement resolves this case while providing clarity and certainty to the public around the public health standards applicable to places of worship following recent rulings by the US Supreme Court.”
The Newsom recall effort gained tremendous traction with a broad cross-section of the state population beyond merely Republicans or Republican-leaners after the governor was caught in November 2020 violating his own stay-at-home rules by partying maskless with lobbyists at an upscale eatery in northern California. Newsom has proposed big-spending programs to try to bring back the once Golden State’s economy.
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