Supreme Court Rules Against Newsom
A settlement in a precedence-setting lawsuit was reached this month. It mandated that California Governor Gavin Newsom pay a Pasadena church $1.35 million as reparations for his overreaching and unnecessary coronavirus restrictions during the pandemic.
The religious organization in question, Harvest Rock Church, has been battling with Newsom for over a year to get the facility closures overturned. When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit California in March 2020, Newsom ordered the closures of all “nonessential businesses,” which, in his mind, included places of worship. Just two months later, Newsom made adjustments, offering 25% indoor capacity at places of worship, so long as the number of people in attendance did not exceed 100.
Still, the church felt their religious freedoms were being imposed upon, and they took formal action. In February their case reached the U.S. Supreme Court where it was deliberated on for several months before being decided in May. The highest court ruled that churches could indeed meet and worship and with a 6-3 ruling, increased the capacity to 200 worshipers indoors, but upheld restrictions on singing and chanting while the pandemic was still a major concern.
The church’s founder, Reverend Che Ahn, spoke with a California newspaper and was quoted saying that “after nearly a yearlong battle defending our religious freedoms, our lawsuit has reached a permanent settlement in our favor. I am thrilled to see the complete reversal of the last discriminatory restrictions against churches in California.”
Harvest Rock Church’s legal representative for the case, Mat Staver, had an interesting observation throughout the trial. After pointing out that the churchgoers of Harvest Rock were threatened with fines and legal action every day they attended, Staver made note of what he felt were targeted attacks on the church. Including his feeling that “Governor Newsom’s COVID restrictions intentionally discriminated against churches while providing preferential treatment to many secular businesses” including the governor's own.
Interestingly enough, this is not the only incident Newsom has had with a church throughout the pandemic. Earlier this year, there was a similar case with a similar ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. Governor Newsom was trying to restrict another California church from meeting. This church, South Bay United Pentecostal, also defeated Newsom in a 6-3 ruling, with the court deciding that forcing church closures would be an infringement on First Amendment rights. Yet another religious case faced the Supreme Court last month, with a 5-4 ruling stating that California could not limit “indoor, at-home religious gatherings” prompting many people to transition to worship in private homes.
Gavin Newsom has struggled mightily over the last year and a half, facing harsh criticism from his opponents throughout the entirety of the coronavirus pandemic. His policies did not receive much support, and a heavily-backed recall campaign was launched early in the lock-down. The campaign gathered nearly 2 million signatures, and a special election for California governor is expected this fall.
John Cox, the Republican challenger who lost the race for governor to Newsom, has been very vocal about the recent events. Cox is seeking to beat Newsom and take over office should that special election come to fruition, and has spoken highly of the church’s efforts to regain their freedom and protect the First Amendment rights of freedom of religion.
The First Amendment is first “for a reason because it protects our religious liberty and encapsulates the history of the founding of the country, which goes back to people who fled Europe to protect their religious liberty. Because of the First Amendment, we have freedom of religion. That is paramount of our liberty” as free Americans.
Staver would add that “what’s important is this ruling is permanent. He cannot ever [close churches] again” and through the established court system religious freedoms have been preserved.