“This order frees up churches in all of California to have indoor services, again.” – Liberty Counsel
By Allen Payton
In the lawsuit by Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry against Governor Gavin Newsom over his ban on all worship services and Bible studies in California, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, yesterday, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in favor of the church. The decision vacates the September 2 order by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and directs that court to the Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 decision in favor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn in their lawsuit against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“The application for injunctive relief, presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court, is treated as a petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment, and the petition is granted. The September 2 order of the United States District Court for the Central District of California is vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit with instructions to remand to the District Court for further consideration in light of Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, 592 U. S. ___ (2020).”
Tuesday, Liberty Counsel filed the final reply brief to the U.S. Supreme Court regarding its request for an injunction pending appeal in the churches’ federal lawsuit against California Governor Gavin Newsom’s unconstitutional worship ban and discriminatory treatment. The emergency petition also requested the extraordinary relief that the Court alternatively consider it as a petition for writ of cert before judgment. Today, the Supreme Court granted the petition, vacated the lower court orders, and remanded the case for further consideration in light of its ruling last week that granted an injunction pending appeal for churches and synagogues in New York.
According to the complaint by the church and ministry, referred to as the plaintiffs, “On July 17, 2020, Plaintiffs filed their complaint against Defendant California Governor Gavin Newsom. (“Complaint,” Dkt. No. 1.) The Complaint alleges six causes of action: (1) Violation of Free Exercise Clause of First Amendment to U.S. Constitution; (2) Violation of First Amendment Freedom of Assembly Clause; (3) Violation of Free Speech Clause of First Amendment to U.S. Constitution; (4) Violation of Establishment Clause of First Amendment to U.S. Constitution; (5) Violation of Equal Protection Clause of Fourteenth Amendment to U.S. Constitution; and (6) Violation of the Guarantee Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”
Then, “On July 18, 2020, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction.”
According to Liberty Counsel, the firm representing the church and ministry, they then appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding Governor Gavin Newsom’s unconstitutional orders. The governor’s orders prohibit all indoor worship, including home Bible studies and fellowship with anyone who does not live in the home. Yet, Gov. Newsom continues to encourage mass gatherings of protestors throughout the state.
Following the argument on August 12, Judge Jesus G. Bernal orally denied the request for a preliminary injunction. However, he waited until September 2 to release the written order. The appeal was filed, but it could not be effective until a written order was issued.
Once the order had been issued, the appeal was able to proceed. Liberty Counsel also filed for an injunction pending appeal. That is what the Supreme Court granted.
On August 13, the Pasadena Assistant Prosecutor in the Criminal Division sent Harvest Rock Church and Pastor Che’ Ahn a letter demanding that all, indoor, in-person worship services cease. The letter threatens daily criminal charges and fines to Pastor Ahn, the church, staff, and parishioners. The letter states that each criminal charge is punishable by up to one year in prison.”
The lawsuit challenges both the total ban on indoor, in-person worship (including in private homes) in the counties on the “County Monitoring List,” and the ban on singing and chanting in the remaining counties. In addition to in-person worship at Harvest Rock Church, the church also has many “Life Groups,” which are home Bible studies and fellowship groups. These too are prohibited under Gov. Newsom’s July 6 (no singing and chanting) and July 13 (no worship) orders. Yet while he discriminates against churches, home Bible studies and fellowship meetings, the governor continues to encourage thousands of protestors to gather throughout the state. Like Gov. Newsom, Pasadena has allowed hundreds and thousands of protestors. Neither the Pasadena Public Health Department nor the Pasadena Prosecutor have attempted to stop the protests in which people are crowded together, many of them not wearing masks.
In Governor Newsom’s response to the motion for the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, he argues that churches are not “essential.” Regarding feeding, counseling and housing people in the same building where worship services occur, Newsom argues that only the worship services should be prohibited while the other non-religious services should be allowed.
Concerning home Bible studies, Newsom argues that he has authority to prohibit home fellowship groups. As to protests, Newsom publicly encourages them, saying “God bless you. Keep doing it.”
The restrictions against places of worship in California are more severe than those in New York. Governor Gavin Newsom’s orders ban all indoor, in-person worship for 99.1 percent of Californians.
Harvest Rock Church has multiple campuses in California, including in Pasadena, Los Angeles, Irvine and Corona. Harvest International Ministries (HIM) has 162 member churches throughout the state. Irreparable harm is being suffered every day as the churches remain subject to the unconstitutional restrictions, coupled with daily criminal threats, fines, and closure.
The Code Enforcement Division for the City of Pasadena and the Criminal Prosecutor have threatened criminal charges, fines, and closure for being open for worship against the governor’s orders and local health orders. The letters threaten up to one year in prison, daily criminal charges and $1,000 fines against the pastors, staff, and parishioners.
The discrimination has become more obvious and severe in Gov. Newsom’s new “Blueprint” issued on August 28, 2020, which established a system of four Tiers. The “Blueprint” discriminates against religious meetings in churches and places of worship in every Tier. The chart attached to the petition makes this discrimination very clear. For example, the consequence of the sea of purple in the “color-coded executive edict” is that indoor worship services are completely prohibited for 99.1 percent of Californians, including most of Harvest Rock and HIM churches. However, warehouses, big box centers, shopping malls, liquors stores, family entertainment and destination centers, gyms, fitness centers, and museums receive preferential treatment with either no capacity limits or no numerical limits.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court provides great relief for churches and places of worship. The handwriting is now on the wall. The final days of Governor Gavin Newsom’s ‘color-coded executive edicts’ banning worship are numbered and coming to an end. It is past time to end these unconstitutional restrictions on places of worship.”
This order frees up churches in all of California to have indoor services, again.