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Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted all capacity restrictions on houses of worship Monday after months of highly publicized legal battles against churches and five rebukes from the U.S. Supreme Court.
“In response to recent judicial rulings, effective immediately, location and capacity limits on places of worship are not mandatory but are strongly recommended,” read California’s COVID-19 guidance, which was revised Monday. “The linked guidance is in the process of being updated. All other restrictions in the guidance remain in place.”
The Center for American Liberty, which brought three of the five lawsuits in which the Supreme Court ruled against California, lauded the move.
“Governor Newsom should have done this a long time ago,” said Center for American Liberty founder and CEO Harmeet K. Dhillon in a statement to The Daily Wire. “For over a year, the state of California has targeted the faith community for discriminatory treatment depriving them of their fundamental right to worship. It shouldn’t take a decision from the Supreme Court, much less five decisions, for Gov. Newsom to realize that what he has been doing is unconstitutional.”
“Today’s decision is incredibly gratifying for my colleagues and [me] at the Center for American Liberty who have been zealously advocating on behalf of courageous Californians seeking the full restoration of the First Amendment,” Dhillon continued. “While we celebrate the lifting of restrictions today, our work is not done. We will not relent until we have sufficient precedent from the courts prohibiting this civil liberties crisis from ever happening again.”
During an interview with Thomas More Society attorney Jenna Ellis, who has been representing Pastor John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in its legal battles with Los Angeles County, Dhillon said, “This just reminds you how we are only one judge away from tyranny at any given point in our country, and millions of dollars had to be spent in attorneys’ fees to reach today’s result.” She later noted that the tide began to turn in their direction only following the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the high court.
.@pnjaban Harmeet Dhillon explains the significance of Friday’s SCOTUS opinion for religious freedom. Today, CA revised its unconstitutional, over-broad, and discriminatory health order to remove the capacity limits on churches. @Liberty_Ctr and @ThomasMoreSoc will keep fighting! pic.twitter.com/D6Ph98c0j4
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) April 13, 2021
“The latest opinion from the Supreme Court is a clear reiteration of its continued directive to governors and health officials across America that they cannot discriminate against houses of worship or treat people of faith with less protection than the U.S. Constitution requires,” Ellis told The Daily Wire. “No alleged health crisis ever justifies suspending religious freedom or any of our most sacred rights in America.”
BREAKING: California lifts its location and capacity limits on churches!!
HUGE WIN for religious freedom thanks to the hard work of @ThomasMoreSoc & @Liberty_Ctr attorneys.@pnjaban joins me TONIGHT on #JustTheTruth at 6pm ET @RealAmVoice with more on Friday’s SCOTUS decision! pic.twitter.com/gz2sw9EGhY
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) April 12, 2021
The Thomas More Society, which was also involved in some of the lawsuits that California churches brought to the Supreme Court, celebrated the fact that Newsom and his administration were backing down. Shortly before their attorneys were scheduled to discuss the deposition of the California State Health Officers before an evidentiary hearing next month in a lawsuit that South Bay United Pentecostal Church brought against Newsom, the law firm told The Daily Wire that the California attorney general’s office informed them of the lift on restrictions.
After Thomas More Society attorney Paul Jonna read the recent case in which the Supreme Court blocked California from limiting in-home religious gatherings, he sent the following email to the California attorney general:
Please confirm before our 1 pm call on Monday whether/when the State plans to update its guidance to set churches at 100% capacity. Otherwise, we will seek further appellate relief — which will inevitably result in the 6th rebuke from SCOTUS of the unfortunate strategy chosen by your clients. It’s time for the State of CA to get the message from the Supreme Court and stop fighting to maintain unconstitutional restrictions on religious exercise. Your clients’ obstinate refusal to follow the law will only result in a larger attorneys’ fees award at the end of this case.
Upon learning that the state’s capacity guidance for places of worship is now only “recommended” and not mandatory, Jonna said, “This is a huge win that God has provided for all people of faith.”