SCOTUS Ready to Rule on CA Churches

Jan 29, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Liberty Counsel filed the final reply brief today at the U.S. Supreme Court regarding Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry’s injunction pending appeal in the federal lawsuit against California Governor Gavin Newsom’s unconstitutional worship ban and discriminatory treatment. Justice Elena Kagan ordered Gov. Newsom to respond by 5 p.m. ET today. 

This is the second time Liberty Counsel has appealed to the High Court on behalf of these churches. 

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the injunction pending appeal for Tiers 2-4 of Newsom’s “Blueprint” but denied it for Tier 1 and the Regional Stay-at-Home Order. Tiers 2-3 placed a 100- and 200- person cap on all houses of worship despite the size of the building. Tier 1 bans ALL WORSHIP on houses of worship. The three-judge Ninth Circuit panel for Harvest Rock Church said it was bound to follow the recent panel decision in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, which was released on January 22. Last December, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley and Calvary Chapel Lone Mountain in their lawsuits against Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak’s unconstitutional 50-person worship bans. As a result, there is now a conflict of decisions among the Ninth Circuit. 

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court granted an emergency petition for an injunction pending appeal on behalf of New York City synagogues and Roman Catholic churches in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo and Agudath Israel v. Cuomo. As a result, churches in Colorado, New Jersey and Nevada have now received favorable court decisions regarding unconstitutional worship bans.

On March 19, Gov. Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order. But he exempted hundreds of so-called “essential” services – including liquor stores and abortion mills. All churches were closed. 

Pastor Ché Ahn of Harvest Rock Church closed the church in March. But closing the church and its ministries took a toll on the community. The elderly were isolated, the sick suffered, the children became depressed, parents frustrated with the new “on-line” teaching for which most schools were ill-prepared, and every social ill increased. 

Pastor Ché reopened the church on Pentecost Sunday, May 31. 

On July 6, Gov. Newsom banned singing and chanting. Then, on July 13, he again banned ALL WORSHIP. Pastor Ché called for help and Liberty Counsel filed a massive (nearly 700-page) lawsuit against Gov. Newsom. 

On August 28, Newsom created four Tiers, keeping 90-plus percent of the churches under a NO WORSHIP ban. Yet, in a 29-page, single-spaced document, he exempted hundreds of secular gatherings. 

Examples include: food packaging and processing, laundromats, warehouses, grocery stores, liquor stores, retail stores, malls, transportation facilities, bus stations, train stations, airports, gambling centers, acupuncture facilities, garages, plants manufacturing chemicals and microelectronics, hardware stores, repair shops, signage companies, accountants, lawyers, insurance agents, pet stores, music and film production, abortion mills, and more. 

Here is the shocking NO WORSHIP timeline: 

March 19 – May 25: No Worship

May 26 – July 12: 25 percent capacity but no more than 100 people

July 13 – Present: No worship for over 90 percent of California 

Therefore, except for 48 days where worship was allowed at 25 percent capacity but not more than 100 people, this NO WORSHIP ban has been in place for almost one year, or 315 days. 

Since August, Pastor Ché, staff, and parishioners face daily criminal charges of one year in jail and 1,000 dollars in fines every day that Harvest Rock Church remains open. The criminal prosecutor penned this chilling threat: 

“This letter is to remind you that violations of these Orders are criminal in nature. Each day in violation is a separate violation and carried with it a potential punishment of up to one year in jail and a fine for each violation.... Any violations in the future will subject your Church, owners, administrators, operators, staff, and parishioners to the above-mention criminal penalties as well as the potential closure of your Church” (emphasis added). 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The U.S. Supreme Court has already vacated the rulings of the lower courts and strongly encouraged them to make a decision based on the New York ruling. However, the Ninth Circuit and the district court have not complied. Therefore, we have returned to the High Court to permanently end Governor Gavin Newsom’s ‘color-coded executive edicts’ banning worship. This governor cannot continue to allow COVID-19 to keep the First Amendment on a respirator.” 

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