A California church has appealed to the Supreme Court for relief from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lockdown order.
South Bay United Pentecostal Church and Bishop Arthur Hodges appealed a lawsuit against Newsom to the High Court on Sunday after a panel on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals shot down the church’s request, according to Politico.
The 9th Circuit ruled 2-1 against the church on Friday, with the majority arguing that the pandemic emergency warranted that the courts step back from determining whether the civil rights of certain groups were being violated by Newsom’s lockdown order.
“We’re dealing here with a highly contagious and often fatal disease for which there presently is no known cure,’” Judges Barry Silverman and Jacqueline Nguyen wrote according to Politico. “In the words of Justice Robert Jackson, if a ‘court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.’”
The court’s decision came down the same day the Trump administration told governors to deem churches and other houses of worship essential. While President Trump does not have the authority to deem religious services essential across the U.S., his Justice Department can back lawsuits brought by religious institutions against states’ lockdown orders.
On Tuesday, the DOJ sent a letter to Newsom warning that his lockdown order and strategy for reopening discriminated against houses of worship. DOJ assistant attorney general Eric Dreiband said that Newsom’s lockdown arbitrarily allows some businesses to stay open “regardless of whether the product they are selling and shipping are life-preserving products or not.” Dreiband also pointed out that while a variety of stores and offices are allowed to open in Phase 2 of Newsom’s reopening plan, religious services are banned until Phase 3.
“This facially discriminates against religious exercise,” Dreiband wrote. “California has not shown why interactions in offices and studios of the entertainment industry, and in-person operations to facilitate nonessential ecommerce, are included on the list as being allowed with social distancing where telework is not practical, while gatherings with social distancing for purposes of religious worship are forbidden, regardless of whether remote worship is practical or not.”
“Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights,” Dreiband added.
California and Newsom are facing multiple lawsuits from churches that are uniting against his lockdown strategy. Hundreds of pastors have signed an open letter committing to opening their churches in protest of the order on May 31.
“The indefinite nature of the restrictions on faith-based meetings is in violation of the very principles this country was founded upon,” Robert Tyler, president of Advocates for Faith and Freedom, wrote in a letter signed by 1,200 pastors. “We agree that the government has a legitimate interest in preventing the spread of COVID- 19, but that interest cannot go unchecked.”
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