The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that California Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom’s prohibiting churches and other houses of worship from holding indoor services did not discriminate against people of faith for practicing their beliefs and said preventing the spread of the coronavirus took precedent.
“It is difficult to see how allowing more people to congregate indoors will do anything other than lead to more cases, more deaths, and more strains on California’s already overburdened health-care system,” Judge Kim Wardlaw, a Bill Clinton appointee, said in the 3-0 ruling.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the ruling:
A federal appeals court says Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ban on indoor worship services in virtually all of California does not discriminate against religion and is justified by the need to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Newsom went too far in numerical limits on indoor services in a few smaller counties with lower rates of the virus and more space available in hospital emergency rooms, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said Friday. But the court said the state’s evidence showed that indoor worship services, with large groups gathered together for extended periods that include singing and chanting, pose risks that warrant a near-statewide ban to protect the public during serious outbreaks of coronavirus infections.
Newsom’s orders met the standards that the U.S. Supreme Court set in November when it struck down New York state’s limits on religious services, Wardlaw said. The high court said New York had set tighter restrictions on indoor worship than on grocery stores and other retail outlets, and it required states to show that any such discrepancies were the only means available to protect public health.
This lawsuit was filed by South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, located in San Diego County. The Chronicle reported:
On Monday, another panel of the court said the same rules would apply to 162 churches throughout the state affiliated with Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, which had filed a separate suit against Newsom. In a separate opinion, Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain said he would have struck down the ban on indoor services because of ‘California’s discriminatory treatment of houses of worship’ but he was required to follow the earlier panel’s standards under the court’s rules.
The ruling comes just as Newsom ordered the reopening of much of the state beginning on Tuesday, ABC reported:
Gov. Newsom announced California was lifting stay-at-home orders for the entire state, effective immediately, and returning to the four-tier reopening system. Most counties would be returning to the purple tier, which allows outdoor dining, salons and other businesses to reopen.
Under the new reopening plan, the majority of the state is now in the purple tier, which still requires churches and other places of worship to meet only outdoors. Malls and tattoo parlors are open for inside service ,and theme parks and schools remain closed.
The attorney for Harvest Rock Church and others under the Harvest International Ministry, will appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
“The high court has already issued a clear road map that leads to the ultimate conclusion that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ban of worship is unconstitutional,” Mat Staver, chairman of the religious conservative legal organization Liberty Counsel, said.