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City Tells Local Church to Stop In-Person Worship Services

Officials will enforce governor's order ‘until present emergency ends’

Published on Wednesday, August 12, 2020 | 4:48 am
Harvest Rock Church Senior Pastor Ché Ahn shown superimposed over an image of his church, which is located in Pasadena at the former Ambassador Auditorium.

According to a nonprofit religious liberty organization that promotes litigation related to evangelical Christian values, Pasadena city officials have ordered a local church to cease holding in-person services.

Harvest Rock Church continues to meet inside its sanctuary in defiance of an order by Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

“Harvest Rock Church received a letter from the City of Pasadena’s code compliance officer demanding that in-person worship services cease,” Liberty Counsel posted on its website. “The letter states that the City of Pasadena will continue to enforce the governor’s orders ‘until the present emergency ends.’”

The two sides are scheduled to appear in the federal district on Wednesday regarding Harvest Rock Church’s request for a preliminary injunction against Gov. Newsom’s COVID-19 orders.

“Harvest Rock Church has enjoyed a good relationship with the City of Pasadena,” the church’s response states. “Harvest is located in the former Ambassador Auditorium, which is a premier location for concerts and vocal artists, like famed Italian Tenor Luciano Pavarotti.”

The rest of the response is aimed at Newsom who Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Must have a different Constitution than the one ratified by the states.”

“While Gov. Newsom encourages tens of thousands of people to gather for mass protests, he bans all in-person worship and home Bible studies and fellowship. Such repression is well-known in despotic governments, and it is shocking that even home fellowship is banned in America. Neither history of the church nor the Constitution is on the side of the governor,” Staver said.

But in recent history the nation’s highest court has ruled with Newsom.

In May, the Supreme Court rejected the South Bay United Pentecostal Church’s attempt to overturn the state’s coronavirus restrictions on in-person religious services.

In that decision, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the minority and upheld the state’s right to impose limits on congregations in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Roberts said, in the opinion.

In its lawsuit, the Pasadena church claims Newsom’s ban violates the right to religious freedom clause of the First Amendment and the “cherished liberties for which so many have fought and died.”

Churches were initially deemed a nonessential service in Newsom’s March stay-at-home orders and were ordered to close.

Like most businesses, houses of worship were eventually allowed to reopen, but only if they followed health and safety guidelines by limiting attendance.

After the reopening led to a resurgence of the virus, singing and chanting were banned in places of worship.

Many churches have started holding outdoor services, which is legal under Newsom’s order, provided congregants continue to wear masks and socially distance. Others have continued to meet via Zoom,

According to City News Service, church leaders claim Harvest Rock, which has 162 member churches throughout the state, including campuses in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties, “cannot fulfill its vital ministry and sincere religious beliefs without gathering together in person, and that it cannot effectively engage in its constitutionally protected free exercise of religion on the Internet.”

“…Gov. Newsom repeatedly encourages tens of thousands of protestors, saying, ‘God bless you. Keep doing it.’ His response filed in court admits he did not attempt to stop the protestors, but says the reason is there were too many of them. If that is the case, perhaps if there are large groups of people who gather for worship, would he not enforce his orders? Yet, he has always encouraged the protestors to ‘Keep doing it.'”

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