The U.S. Supreme Court sided with a California church that challenged Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus restrictions shutting down churches while apparently allowing mass “protests” and other secular gatherings.
The Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry in Pasadena filed an emergency petition on Nov. 20 arguing that Newsom’s church lockdowns violated their First Amendment right to religious freedom.
The church pointed out that Newsom had violated his own COVID restrictions after he was caught not wearing a mask while attending a group dinner inside a posh Napa County restaurant.
The Supreme Court reacted Thursday by vacating an appeals court order that had sided with the governor.
The court remanded the case back down to the appellate court, urging it to use a prior SCOTUS ruling against New York’s COVID restrictions as guidance. In that decision, the court blocked Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s shutdown of religious gatherings and sided with a coalition of Orthodox Jewish groups and Catholics.
Justice Neil Gorsuch blasted Cuomo in his concurring opinion, saying it was hypocritical to allow liquor stores to remain open for business while shutting down churches.
“The Governor has chosen to impose no capacity restrictions on certain businesses he considers ‘essential,’” Gorsuch wrote. “And it turns out the businesses the Governor considers essential include hardware stores, acupuncturists, and liquor stores. Bicycle repair shops, certain signage companies, accountants, lawyers, and insurance agents are all essential too.
“So, at least according to the Governor, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians. Who knew public health would so perfectly align with secular convenience?”
He then decried the double standards of lawmakers who use the coronavirus crisis to impose arbitrary lockdowns.
“It is time — past time — to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues and mosques,” Gorsuch wrote.
Because last week’s Supreme Court decision remanded the Harvest Rock Church case back to the appellate court without providing long-term relief, the church filed a renewed motion on Friday seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent further church shutdowns.
“Plaintiffs need immediate relief by this Sunday, December 6, 2020 because they face the unconscionable and unconstitutional choice of attending religious worship services or facing criminal punishment, jail, daily fines, and the closure of their Churches,” the church argued.
The Harvest Rock Church urged the Supreme Court to intercede quickly, saying it “has been explicitly threatened with daily criminal punishment, fines, imprisonment, and closure of its Church for violating the Governor’s unconstitutional color-coded regime of religious discrimination.”
The court did not respond by Sunday, leaving California churches in a state of limbo.
Newsom has ramped up the state’s COVID-19 restrictions with a strict lockdown order for parts of the state. The new rules ban all indoor church services.
Meanwhile, residents across the state are protesting his latest mandates.
One such protester is actor Nick Searcy, who defied the lockdowns by walking around his neighborhood.
“I went for an illegal walk. You’ll never take me alive,” he joked on Twitter.
— SUPER-SPREADER Nick Searcy, INT’L FILM & TV STAR (@yesnicksearcy) December 3, 2020
As Searcy strolled, he quipped, “This is the dumbest time in American history.”
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