A network of California churches filed a lawsuit Saturday against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, alleging that his recent coronavirus lockdown order — which temporarily banned all indoor church operations, including in-home Bible studies — is unconstitutional.
What are the details?
Harvest International Ministry, which has church campuses in Pasadena, Corona, and Irvine, argued in the complaint that churchgoers in California are having their gatherings severely restricted while protesters are being permitted to demonstrate without any restriction, the Washington Times reported.
"While the Governor has unilaterally and significantly restricted the number of individuals permitted to 'gather' in Plaintiffs' churches, he has imposed no similar restrictions on the untold thousands of protesters who have gathered all throughout California cities with no threat of criminal sanction, and no social distancing or restrictions whatsoever," the complaint stated. "And, the Governor explicitly encouraged such large gatherings of protesters while condemning churches for [singing] hymns in their churches."
On July 13, the governor issued a new order restricting indoor activity at a variety of locations in counties on the Monitoring List, including restaurants and bars, shopping malls, and, of course, places of worship.
The order noted that 29 counties accounting for 80% of the state's population were on the list at the time, including Los Angeles County, where Harvest's main campus is located.
"Governor Gavin Newsom cannot disregard the First Amendment and ban all in-person worship in private homes and churches. Nor can the state micromanage the form of worship by banning singing or chanting. The governor is not the High Priest over all religions," Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, the religious liberty legal group representing Harvest in the lawsuit, said in a statement.
"There [are] not two First Amendments — one for protests and one for houses of worship," Staver added. "Gov. Newsom encourages thousands of protesters to gather in the streets but bans in-person worship and home Bible studies and fellowship. This discriminatory treatment is unconstitutional."
In a news release, Liberty Counsel noted that, in addition to in-person worship services, the churches' home Bible studies and fellowship groups are now prohibited under the order.
On Sunday, Harvest Rock Church, the ministry's main campus, defied the order by holding an in-house worship service.
"I want us to pray right now that we will win that court case," Pastor Ché Ahn said during the service. "No one is above the Constitution. No one is above the law."
"As a pastor, I believe we've been essential for 2,000 years," Ahn later told KCAL-TV, referring to the fact that operations deemed "essential" have been permitted under Newsom's public health orders.
This is not the first time that the California governor has been sued by churches in the state because of his restrictive orders. In April, a group of churches sued Newsom after he banned gatherings of more than 10 people and didn't exempt religious institutions.
Then Fox News reported that another group of churches sued Newsom after he banned singing in places of worship but refused to ban protests.