For the second time, attorneys with a local church have filed an injunction pending appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s religious worship restrictions.
“The total ban on all in-person worship in California is the most severe in the nation. Appellants have been under that total ban since July 13, 2020,” according to court papers filed with the High Court.
“Each day, the pastors, staff, and parishioners of Harvest Rock Church face threats of daily criminal charges and fines for assembling with even one person for worship. These threats have been placed in writing by the Pasadena Criminal Prosecutor and the Public Health Department,” the document states.
Contrary to the court papers, there is not a total ban on in-person worship in California. On Monday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the church could meet indoors in California in areas where the virus is moderate or substantial, but stopped short on allowing indoor meetings in the majority of the state where the virus is widespread.
Churches are allowed to meet outdoors.
That same day, Newsom lifted the Regional Stay-at-Home Order allowing some businesses to reopen, but not churches.
“Applicants have been subject to complete prohibitions and severe restrictions for nearly eleven months, have been forced to choose between jail and attending Church on the Holy Day of Easter and the Day of Pentecost, and now another Holy Season of Christmas due to the lower courts’ refusal to act,” according to court documents.
Although city officials sent the church a cease and desist order threatening to jail and fine church officials if indoor services continued, no arrests have been made, although the church continues to illegally meet there as the lawsuit wends its way through court.
In late November, the High Court ordered a district court’s decision be vacated and the case sent back to the same district court for reconsideration. However, U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal ruled against the church for a second time in that hearing, prompting the appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
“The First Amendment has not taken a sabbatical,” Bernal ruled in the second hearing. “Californians may still worship, attend services, pray, and otherwise exercise their religious freedoms. They just may not do so in ways that significantly increase the likelihood of transmission of a virus that has claimed more than 300,000 American lives in less than one year. The Constitution is not a suicide pact. The First Amendment may not be used to make it one.”