By Pacific Justice Institute
Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) filed a federal lawsuit against California Gov. Gavin Newsom on behalf of two churches in Calaveras County that desire to receive equal treatment, as other institutions such as schools are permitted by the Governor to reopen.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, seeks to restrain the Governor’s unconstitutional treatment of religious assemblies in his executive orders. Governor Newsom’s May 4 executive order, the Reopening Plan, lays out the four stages for reopening the State. Calaveras County, in the midst of Stage 2, is permitted to open schools again for educational purposes, but is forced to keep churches closed down until Stage 3.
The rural churches in this case, Mountain Christian Fellowship and Refuge Church, have complied with Governor Newsom’s stay-at-home orders and did not conduct in-person services. Calaveras County reported only 13 known cases of COVID-19 and no deaths related to the virus, and the County currently has no known COVID-19 cases.
Kevin Snider, pro bono church attorney and Chief Counsel of PJI, who represents the churches in this lawsuit, stated, “These churches are not asking for preferential treatment from the State, but for equal treatment. No compelling state interest exists to apply different standards to a schoolhouse and a church. Instead of separating them like sheep from the goats, identical health and safety rules for both institutions could be put in place by the State.”
“We at Pacific Justice Institute have waited for this strategic time to challenge Governor Newsom’s blatant violation of religious rights for churches to meet and congregate in defense of their faith,”commented Brad Dacus, President of religious freedom organization, PJI. “We are willing to take this all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary, as this sets the stage for many generations to come.”