Pasadena’s Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry recently reached a settlement regarding the lawsuit against California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The suit was filed in regards to Newsom’s COVID-19 restrictions on churches and is the first statewide injunction in the country against COVID-19 restrictions on places of worship. While the lawsuit has been battled in court since last summer, it has been a hot topic regarding religious freedom and protecting religious liberty.
Harvest Rock Church’s Senior Pastor Ché Ahn received a letter from the Pasadena Criminal Prosecutor after the state banned indoor religious services last year threatening him, the staff, or anyone else who attends church daily with criminal charges up to one year in prison and daily fines of $1,000. The state prohibited indoor church services, which included in-home Bible study groups. California pastors criticized the restrictions and questioned why small Bible study sessions were not permitted when other minor events, marketplaces, and businesses were allowed.
California churches asked the court to impose injunctive relief to allow them to gather in person without fear of state repercussions. They pointed out how thousands of protesters have gathered throughout California cities with no threat of criminal sanction and no restrictions imposed by the governor. “And, the Governor explicitly encouraged such large gatherings of protesters while condemning churches for [singing] hymns in their churches,” the original complaint reads.
But the church’s legal battle was defended by Liberty Counsel, a legal advocacy firm for religious liberty, who first addressed a letter to Gov. Newsom and his attorney general before filing the lawsuit. They asked that they rescind the discriminatory rulings against churches and follow the Constitution. But Gov. Newsom took a different direction, which results in three emergency moves and three emergency petitions to the U.S Supreme Court.
On a 6-3 vote in February 2021, the U.S Supreme Court ruled in favor of Harvest Rock Church, with the Liberty Council who appealed to the High Court on behalf of these churches. They ruled that the church could open its doors to 200 members in the orange tier. On May 17, 2021, the U.S Supreme Court found that Gov. Newsom’s restrictions on home Bible study and worship violated the First Amendment and that he must also reimburse Liberty Council $1,350,000 for the attorney fees and costs. Discriminatory restrictions on churches were permanently removed.
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According to the Liberty Counsel’s settlement, the state cannot impose any “discriminatory restrictions” upon any houses of worship. They cited numerous examples of nonreligious activity and comparable religious gatherings including grocery stores, big box stores, warehouses, transportation, infrastructure, telecommunications, and more.
“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 and Chairman Mat Staver said.
Staver said that the governor will not be able to violate the First Amendment rights of churches and places of worship ever again. He called Pastor Ahn’s leadership “courageous” in toppling the tyranny and freeing the pastors and churches in California. Now, churches do not have to make the Dem’s discriminatory list of places with restrictions that are not equally applied to as “essential services” or “critical infrastructure.”
“This is a momentous day for churches in America! After nearly a year-long 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, knowing this case will act as a precedent, not only in our state but also in our nation,” Pastor Ahn said.
Democratic governors allowed protests and riots all summer long while shutting down religious activities and church gatherings. They let the entertainment industry film TV singing competitions and run movie productions while restricting Sunday Service. No wonder Californians are trying to recall Newsom.
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