California Churches Appeal to Ninth Circuit

Liberty Counsel,

Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry have appealed yet again to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the federal district court of California’s denial of a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Governor Gavin Newsom’s unconstitutional orders. Liberty Counsel immediately filed an appeal.

Judge Jesus G. Bernal denied the request despite the recent rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit in favor of houses of worship. The Supreme Court has issued a clear roadmap when it ruled that New York’s COVID restrictions violated the First Amendment Free Exercise rights of churches and synagogues, and then granted the petition of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry.

On Thursday, December 3, the High Court granted cert, vacated the lower court orders involving the emergency petition of the churches, and directed the district court to reconsider in light of the Court’s decision granting an injunction for churches and synagogues in New York. However, after a brief hearing in the district court, the judge failed to abide by the High Court’s instructions and only imposed the very irreparable harm that the Supreme Court found in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo and Agudath Israel v. Cuomo. In that case, the High Court held unequivocally that COVID-19 restrictions, such as those at issue with the California churches, “cannot be viewed as neutral because they single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has also ruled in favor of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley and Calvary Chapel Lone Mountain in their lawsuits against Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak’s unconstitutional worship bans. In the opinion the court wrote, “The Supreme Court’s recent decision . . . arguably represented a seismic shift in Free Exercise law, and compels the result in this case.”

Liberty Counsel represents Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry which have many campuses throughout California. On August 13, the Pasadena Assistant Prosecutor in the Criminal Division sent Harvest Rock Church and Pastor Che’ Ahn a letter demanding that ALL in-person worship services cease. The letter threatens daily criminal charges and fines to Pastor Ahn, the church, staff, and parishioners. The letter states that each criminal charge is punishable by up to one year in prison.

Governor Newsom’s “Blueprint” singles out religious worship and imposes discriminatory prohibitions on churches that are not imposed on similar nonreligious entities such as is addressed in Catholic Diocese and Calvary Chapel. For example, in Tier 1, churches are totally prohibited from gathering in any number for indoor religious worship yet food packaging and processing plants, laundromats, and warehouses are permitted to operate with no numerical or capacity restrictions.

Los Angeles County Public Health Department understood the Supreme Court’s roadmap and last week issued a Revised Temporary Order that specifies that houses of worship in Los Angeles can now conduct services indoors with no numerical or percentage caps and only social distancing between separate households.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The U.S. Supreme Court has already issued its Constitutional roadmap for houses of worship that should lead courts to find Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive edicts violate the First Amendment. The High Court has ruled and therefore ALL lower courts must obey that decision to allow houses of worship their First Amendment freedom.”

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