Federal Judge Rules California Governor Gavin Newsom Had the Right to Ban In-Person Church Services

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that California Gov. Gavin Newsom had the right to ban churches from assembling during the coronavirus pandemic in the interest of public health after Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi sought a temporary restraining order against the move.

“This Court finds the State and County stay at home orders being challenged here bear a real and substantial relation to public health,” U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez wrote in his order denying the application brought by the church and Pastor Jonathan Duncan.

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The judge said the church’s argument that their services are “much safer than shopping at Costco, Walmart, or Home Depot” is unpersuasive.

“[I]t assumes that the State and County’s designation of essential activities turns solely upon people’s ability to comply with the CDC guidelines while engaged in those activities. Not so. The State’s order expressly states it took other considerations into account, i.e., continuing non-COVID-19 emergency services, providing clean water, protecting the state’s supply chains, etc.,” he wrote.

Mendez noted that the church “failed to produce any evidence that their in-person gatherings pose little threat of increasing COVID-19’s spread.”

“The understandably cherished freedom to exercise sincerely-held religious beliefs ‘does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability,’” the judge wrote, citing case law. “More specifically, when a neutral law of general application places incidental limits on a religious exercise, ‘the right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community …  to communicable disease.’”

Duncan and his church filed a complaint against the City of Lodi, its police chief and several State and County officials alleging that the stay-at-home orders Newsom and San Joaquin County enacted to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus “impermissibly infringe upon their constitutional and statutory rights to speak, assemble, and practice religion as they choose.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leonardo Blair

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