The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday denied Harvest Rock Church’s bid for an emergency injunction that would have allowed the church to meet legally pending an appeal of its case.
In the 2-1 decision to deny the church’s request, the judges wrote that “In order to demonstrate that an injunction pending appeal is warranted, Harvest Rock must show that it is likely to succeed on the merits, that it is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in its favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.”
The church has been holding indoor services despite an order by Gov. Gavin Newsom barring indoor gatherings as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Newsom’s order allows for outdoor church services.
Officials with the church have argued that their First Amendment right to freedom of religion was violated.
A previous judge ruled that the speech was not an issue, but that the issue lied with the speech taking place indoors in large groups.
“The Orders apply the same restrictions to worship services as they do to other indoor congregate events, such as lectures and movie theaters. Some congregate activities are completely prohibited in every county, such as attending concerts and spectating sporting events,” the majority wrote.
Harvest Rock also contended that Newsom failed to provide a rationale for what the church perceived as “more lenient treatment of certain secular activities,” such as shopping in a large store.
The governor offered the declaration of an expert, Dr. James Watt, in support of the claim that the risk of the virus is elevated in indoor congregate activities, including in-person worship services. Harvest Rock did not offer a competing expert or any other evidence to rebut Watt’s opinion that congregate events like worship services are particularly risky, according to the ruling.
The church has also contended that Newsom bent the rules for demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota. However, Newsom’s order does allow outdoor gatherings, but indoor protests are not allowed.
City officials have ordered the church to close its doors, but so far church leaders have remained defiant. The city has not fined church leaders or issued citations to members of the congregation.
It was not known if the city would take further action. The church’s pastor has promised to pay the citations.
“We also conclude that Harvest Rock failed to demonstrate that an injunction pending appeal is in the public interest,” the majority stated.