CA Churches Return to SCOTUS

Dec 9, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Liberty Counsel filed a renewed application to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry asking for an injunction in their federal lawsuit against California Governor Gavin Newsom’s unconstitutional worship ban and discriminatory treatment. 

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 yesterday hearing in the district court, the judge failed to abide by the High Court’s instructions. The judge’s desire to delay this case would only impose the very irreparable harm that the Supreme Court found in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo and Agudath Israel v. Cuomo. Every Justice has affirmed applicants’ right to return to this Court when such a circumstance occurs. 

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals acted promptly on December 3 in accordance with the Supreme Court’s directive. The next morning, December 4, Harvest Rock filed a renewed Motion and Memorandum of Law for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and Preliminary Injunction (PI). The churches also filed a notice requesting the district court to issue injunctive relief without the delay of a hearing due to the irreparable harm. On Saturday, December 5, the district court set a hearing for December 8. Gov. Newsom opposed the requested relief.

On Monday, December 7, the churches filed a response in the district court emphasizing the harsher restrictions in California compared to New York and the impending criminal threats against Harvest Rock Church, the pastors, staff, and parishioners. 

At 5:00 PM Eastern Time, December 8, the district court held a ten-minute hearing refusing to address the requested relief. Instead, the district court accepted the request of Gov. Newsom to delay the hearing so that the governor could file yet another brief on December 14, followed by a hearing on December 18. The district court was wholly unconcerned about the irreparable harm or addressing the High Court’s decision in Catholic Dioceses. 

Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry filed this action in the district court on July 17, 2020. On July 20, 2020, the district court denied Applicants’ motion for TRO and PI. After briefing concluded and the district court held a hearing on August 8, the court verbally denied the PI. The district court did not issue its written denial until September 2, a full three weeks (21 days) after its promised expedited decision. The district court then delayed issuing the denial of the injunction pending appeal until September 16, thus preventing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals from addressing the emergency request. The delay by the district court was 59 days. 

The delay by the district court has been a pattern. The Supreme Court has already issued to this court, and every other, a roadmap that leads to one destination – that the restrictions on churches and places of worship in California violate the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause. In Roman Catholic Diocese v. Cuomo, the High Court stated unequivocally: “There can be no question that the challenged restrictions, if enforced, will cause irreparable harm.” 

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom’s orders ban ALL in-person worship for more than 99 percent of the state. The Code Enforcement Division for the City of Pasadena and the Criminal Prosecutor have threatened criminal charges, fines, and closure for being open for worship against the governor’s orders and local health orders. The letters threaten up to one year in prison, daily criminal charges and $1,000 fines against the pastors, staff, and parishioners. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Our case is back at the Supreme Court to seek emergency relief from the daily criminal threats and fines. These threats and fines extend to every parishioner and carry up to one year in prison. The lower district court cannot ignore the irreparable harm or the Supreme Court’s clear roadmap. The High Court has left the door open for resolution.” 

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