After Supreme Court Ruling, California Lifts Location and Capacity Restrictions on Houses of Worship

Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool

After a year and many legal battles, restrictions on location and capacity for California houses of worship have finally been lifted.

From the California COVID-19 so-called industry “guidance”:

In response to recent judicial rulings, effective immediately, location and capacity limits on places of worship are not mandatory but are strongly recommended. The linked guidance is in the process of being updated. All other restrictions in the guidance remain in place.

The update is effective today, April 12.

The Center for American Liberty, along with the Thomas More Society, brought the successful suits against the State of California. From the Center for American Liberty’s email announcement:

Breaking: Due to Center for American Liberty lawsuits, California lifts restrictions on location and capacity limits on places of worship
California — California Governor Gavin Newsom lifted location and capacity limits on places of worship today, effective immediately, as a result of the Supreme Court of the United States ruling five times that his orders were unconstitutional — three of the five rulings, including the most recent Tandon v. Newsom, were Center for American Liberty lawsuits.

This means that across California, churches and synagogues, small and large, who were under the thumb of limitations and restrictions for gathering, while entertainment and sports arenas were given a different set of rules, can now be free to gather as they see fit.

The email listed their three successful cases, and CEO and Founder Harmeet Dhillon, who has worked long and hard fighting against the unconstitutional mandates which infringed on the civil liberties of everyday Americans, had this to say:

The Center for American Liberty’s three successful lawsuits:
Gish v. Newsom
Tandon v. Newsom
South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom

“Governor Newsom should have done this a long time ago. For over a year, the state of California has targeted the faith community for discriminatory treatment depriving them of their fundamental right to worship. It shouldn’t take a decision from the Supreme Court, much less five decisions, for Gov. Newsom to realize that what he has been doing is unconstitutional.

“Today’s decision is incredibly gratifying for my colleagues and I at the Center for American Liberty who have been zealously advocating, on behalf of courageous Californians seeking the full restoration of the First Amendment.

“While we celebrate the lifting of restrictions today, our work is not done. We will not relent until we have sufficient precedent from the courts prohibiting this civil liberties crisis from ever happening again.”

Some houses of worship and house gatherings may still follow the tier restrictions set up by Governor Newsom, while others will return to the freedoms they once enjoyed before this pandemic began.

Personally, I have been attending a church that ignored Newsom’s arbitrary diktats and returned to regular worship in late Summer of 2020, when it was clear Newsom was just making it up as he went along, rather than following actual science and data. I am more than disappointed that every house of worship did not stand against this foolishness, but I am grateful for the ones who have led, set an example, and paid the price that helped to bring about this favorable ruling.

For those organizations that feared intimidation, fines, restrictions, and the State’s draconian measures, this decision finally removes their barriers.

California’s decision is based upon the April 10, 5-4 Supreme Court decision that ruled that California cannot enforce COVID-19 restrictions that have limited home-based religious worship including Bible studies and prayer meetings.

My colleague Shipwreckedcrew gives an informed and reasoned treatise of that decision—he’s a legal eagle and does it with completeness—so I won’t rehash it here. Give it a read for a keen analysis on the decision.

This is akin to dominoes falling that will ultimately fell Governor Gavin Newsom’s one-person rule of California. On April 20 at 9:30 a.m., the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento will hear California Assemblymembers James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) and Kevin Kiley’s (R-Rocklin) oral argument in their lawsuit challenging Newsom’s abuse of emergency powers during the COVID-19 State of Emergency. This suit challenges the legality of Executive Order N-67-20 which changed several statutory laws overnight. Asms. Gallagher and Kiley argue that this was an unconstitutional act because it invaded the powers that should only be held by the Legislature.

Newsom’s argument was that a State of Emergency “centralizes the State’s powers in the hands of the governor.” A Superior Court judge ruled in Kiley’s and Gallagher’s favor back in November, and the Governor issued an appeal which will be heard next week.

I will end with this, which lays bare the two-faced nature of our government in dealing with houses of worship during this pandemic.

From the San Francisco Chronicle: How churches, community-based organizations have stepped up to vaccinate communities of color

Churches are a valuable link in California’s coronavirus vaccination campaign, health equity experts say. Vaccination rates in the Bay Area are lower in Black and brown communities, even though data shows these residents are not generally reluctant to get the shots.

On the one hand, churches are super spreaders and dangerous to the health of the public. On the other hand, when it comes to vaccine distribution—especially to the poor and people of color—churches are a “valuable link” in offering the vaccine to their congregants or convincing them about the efficacy and importance of being vaccinated for the sake of public health.

Churches provide an atmosphere of trust and familiarity. They also can help breach the digital divide that often makes it harder for people of color, and low-income and older residents, to navigate the online appointment system.

So we end this mess with the soft bigotry of low expectations and racist trope that poor people cannot access the internet. It’s dishonest, disingenuous, and deceptive. But, this is what has become of our government.