Samuel Case, FISM News
In a victory for religious freedom, U.S. District Court Judge Jesus G. Bernal ordered California Governor Gavin Newsom to pay $1.35 million in a settlement to Harvest Rock Church of Pasadena, California, for the state’s overreach against the church during the pandemic. This is the first permanent ruling against a state for cracking down on churches that violated pandemic restrictions.
The state had threatened the pastor and churchgoers with criminal charges for keeping the church open during the pandemic, according to Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm that represented the church. Harvest Rock has remained fully open since May 31, 2020, defying Newsom’s 25% capacity limit on churches and limited overall capacity to l00 people.
Following reprimands from the Supreme Court, Newsom loosened restrictions on churches. Updating the state’s policy on May 4 to say “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.”
“Gov. Newsom’s COVID restrictions intentionally discriminated against churches while providing preferential treatment to many secular businesses and gatherings,” Staver said. “What’s important is this ruling is permanent. He cannot ever do this again.” Stave ridiculed Governor Newsom as “the worst governor in America” in regards to religious freedom.
The Washington Examiner reports that the ruling allows for restrictions on churches “if child infections rise 100%, statewide cases are at least 26 per 100,000 people, or available ICU hospital bed capacity falls below 20%.”