A California Superior Court judge issued an injunction against Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s planned COVID-19 restrictions on a Catholic priest and his parishes earlier this week, citing the recent Supreme Court decision in favor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.
Judge Gregory Pulskamp slapped down Newsom’s mandates on Thursday in a case brought against state, local, and municipal officials by the Thomas More Society on behalf of Father Trevor Burfitt and his several churches. The complaint, which can be read here, argued that Newsom and those under his authority were discriminating against religious institutions in the name of COVID-19.
Pulskamp’s ruling took particular issue with the provisions of Newsom’s recent “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” and his “Regional Stay at Home Order,” asserting that such orders failed to treat houses of worship in a manner “equal to the favored class of entities,” which would include “big-box retail stores, grocery stores, home improvement stores, hotels, airports, train stations, bus stations, movie production houses, warehouses, factories, schools, and a lengthy list of additional businesses.”
Pulskamp also quoted a dissent from Justice Brett Kavanaugh in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, which was a precursor to Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo:
Assuming all of the same precautions are taken, why can someone safely walk down a grocery store aisle but not a pew? And why can someone safely interact with a brave deliverywoman but not with a stoic minister? The Church and its congregants simply want to be treated equally to comparable secular businesses. California already trusts its residents and any number of businesses to adhere to proper social distancing and hygiene practices. The State cannot “assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work or go about the rest of their daily lives in permitted social settings.”
Noting that Newsom had “not convincingly established that the health risks associated with houses of worship would be any different than ‘essential businesses’ or ‘critical infrastructure,'” the court ruled that “Pending a full trial on the merits, Defendants, their agents, and representatives, are hereby enjoined from enforcing against Plaintiff the provisions of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the Regional Stay at Home Order, and all Covid-19 restrictions that fail to treat houses of worship equal to the favored class of entities [i.e., ‘essential businesses’].”
Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Chris Ferrara praised the decision, saying in a statement to The Daily Wire:
After more than nine months of tyranny in the name of “containing the spread” of a virus they have failed to contain, the gubernatorial dictators presiding over draconian lockdowns are running out of runway on their claim that churches are somehow more dangerous viral vectors than any of the litany of “essential businesses” crowded with customers that they allow to operate at 100% capacity.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Brooklyn Diocese v. Cuomo has opened the way to the liberation of churches from the absurd and bigoted superstition that they are veritable death chambers threatening the entire population. Not even hair salons, which by the services offered necessitate close personal contact, have been subjected to the onerous and barefaced biases heaped upon houses of worship.
We are deeply grateful to Judge Pulskamp for his recognition that, as his decision states (quoting Brooklyn Diocese): “But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty. Before allowing this to occur, we have a duty to conduct a serious examination of the need for such a drastic measure.”
Paul Jonna, who is another attorney with the Thomas More Society who represented Burfitt in court, spoke to The Daily Wire in October regarding the case after Los Angeles County allegedly sent health department workers to harass and fine one of his churches in retaliation for his lawsuit.
As The Daily Wire reported:
Paul Jonna, an attorney with the Thomas More Society who is representing the church, characterized the fines to The Daily Wire as “a clear case of retaliation” for Burfitt’s lawsuit.
Referencing another incident that took place Oct. 20, Jonna said, “They sent county inspectors over to the church a few times and attempted to eject two women praying in a 500-capacity church, basically alone in the church—just praying, worshiping God and [they] were threatened with citations for being inside the church.”
“We think these orders have been unconstitutional from the beginning,” Jonna continued. Speaking more broadly, he said, “It’s clear that the executive branches of these Democrat-run states, they’re using this as a massive power grab. And the tyranny is just shocking to most Americans who understand how our country was founded and designed to have three separate branches of government. We’re seeing these states being controlled and governed by one branch. The legislatures are not really providing input and the courts are just sitting by.”
Jonna referenced Grace Community Church and its pastor John MacArthur, who are also being represented by the Thomas More Society in their legal wrangling with Los Angeles County. Government officials are trying to “make an example” out of MacArthur with citations and contempt proceedings, Jonna said, but he also noted that some of these same officials were encouraging and even participating in recent mass protests. “It’s a complete double-standard, it’s clearly unconstitutional, and we’re fairly confident that we’re going to get a good result in this case, given the facts that we have today.”
Jonna said Burfitt is also optimistic that the case will end well for him and his congregation. “He’s a faithful priest who knows his duties and that his people need him. He’s seeing the results of these shutdown orders causing far more harm than good at this point. He sees people need their faith community.”
“They need to be able to worship God and they need to be able to access the sacraments, and depriving them of this for the sake of their safety at this point in the pandemic, with the statistics as we understand them, it’s just unjustified and it’s unjust,” Jonna added.