Churches Challenge Newsom’s Worship Ban in Appeals Court

Oct 5, 2020

RIVERSIDE, CA – Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry has filed its brief to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on the full merits of the request to block the First Amendment violations of Governor Gavin Newsom’s unconstitutional orders. 

The governor’s orders prohibit ALL worship in most of the state, including home Bible studies and fellowship with anyone who does not live in the home. Yet, Gov. Newsom continues to encourage mass gatherings of protestors throughout the state. 

The 2-1 ruling last Thursday was only on the emergency injunction pending appeal. This brief now presents the merits of the preliminary injunction to the Court, which will later hear arguments on the case.

Judge O'Scannlain’s dissent last week in the emergency ruling correctly focuses on the many examples of discriminatory treatment in Gov. Newsom’s August 31 “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” which establishes four tiers. In virtually every tier, houses of worship receive disfavored treatment compared to similar nonreligious gatherings. Museums, gyms, fitness centers, family entertainment centers, cardrooms, satellite wagering, laundromats, malls, destination centers, swap meets, and more, all receive better treatment than similar religious gatherings. 

O'Scannlain wrote that “the Constitution, emphatically, does not allow a state to pursue such measures against religious practices more aggressively than it does against comparable secular activities.” 

He further wrote that “the State cannot evade the Free Exercise Clause merely by linking its severe restrictions on worship attendance to those imposed on one or two categories of comparable secular activity; it must also justify its decision to treat more favorably a host of other comparable activities which so evidently raise the State’s same expressed concerns about disease spread.” 

The lawsuit challenges both the total ban on in-person worship (including in private homes) in the counties on the “County Monitoring List,” and the ban on singing and chanting in the remaining counties. In addition to in-person worship at Harvest Rock Church, the church also has many “Life Groups,” which are home Bible studies and fellowship groups. These too are prohibited under Gov. Newsom’s July 6 (no singing and chanting) and July 13 (no worship) orders. Yet while he discriminates against churches, home Bible studies and fellowship meetings, the governor continues to encourage thousands of protestors to gather throughout the state. Like Gov. Newsom, Pasadena has allowed hundreds and thousands of protestors. Neither the Pasadena Public Health Department nor the Pasadena Prosecutor have attempted to stop the protests in which people are crowded together, many of them not wearing masks. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The Supreme Court has clearly stated that under the First Amendment, the state cannot prohibit people from attending church against their will. Yet, that is what Gov. Newsom has done. The church has been essential for 2,000 years, and the First Amendment recognizes that the free exercise of religion is essential. The church is now more essential than ever because there are so many hurting people, especially in California, where the governor has decimated the economy and hurt many people by his draconian restrictions.” 

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