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Supreme Court Justice Orders Governor Newsom to Respond in Pasadena Harvest Rock Church Case

Published on Thursday, January 28, 2021 | 12:53 pm

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan has ordered Gov. Gavin Newsom to respond by 5 p.m. Friday to an injunction filed by a local church opposed to Newsom’s orders in fighting COVID-19

Lawyers for Harvest Rock Church filed for an injunction with the High Court to prevent the state and the city of Pasadena from enforcing health orders preventing church members from meeting in person in an enclosed space. 

Earlier this week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that churches could hold indoor services with a limited congregation in areas where COVID-19 is not widespread.

L.A. County, including Pasadena, is located in the purple tier, the highest of the state’s multi-colored matrix of levels of infection.

“Gov. Gavin Newsom continues to violate the First Amendment by discriminating against houses of worship, and we have returned to the U.S. Supreme Court because the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals did not follow the High Court’s roadmap,”

Harvest Rock attorney Mat Staver said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to the High Court resolving this unconstitutional oppression once and for all.”

Courts have ruled against Harvest Rock on the matter multiple times. The church has been holding indoor services despite an order by Newsom barring indoor gatherings as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. However, 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.

In a previous ruling, a district court judge ruled that the type of speech in use was not an issue, but that the speech was occurring among large groups of people gathering indoors.

Harvest Rock has 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 Dr. James Watt, chief of the communicable diseases division of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) 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 events like in-person worship services are particularly risky.

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 allows outdoor gatherings, whether for religious services or political protests, and indoor protests are also 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 the pastor or members of the congregation.

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