U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Harvest Rock impacts all California churches: Rejects Governor Newsom’s restrictions on indoor services

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling rejects Governor Gavin Newsom’s restrictions on indoor church services and “provides great relief for churches and places of worship,” said Liberty Counsel founder and Chairman Mat Staver who represents both Pasadena Harvest Rock Pastor Che Ahn and Harvest International Ministry which has 162 member churches in their lawsuit against the state.

“The restrictions against houses of worship in California are more severe than those in New York,” which were given relief by the U.S. Supreme Court the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. “Newsom’s orders banned all in-person worship for 99.1 percent of Californians,” the non- profit religious freedom organization said.

“The Code Enforcement Division for the City of Pasadena and the Criminal Prosecutor had threatened criminal charges, fines and closure of Harvest’s ministries for allowing people worship against the governor’s and local health agencies’ orders.

“They have been threatened with up to one year in prison, daily criminal charges and $1,000 fines against the pastors, staff and congregation members. These threats and charges are now on hold.”

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision comes after the Supreme Court blocked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, from enforcing tough pandemic-related restrictions on attendance at houses of worship.

That 5-4 opinion was made on behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, and on behalf of Agudath Israel of America v. Cuomo (a Jewish synagogue). Both Supreme Court decisions made in the last two weeks impacts Democratic governors who have been working to close down churches.

Newsom had argued that the policy on church attendance was justified on public health grounds. The law firm acting in the California case was ecstatic at the new ruling. The Supreme Court’s newest Justice—Amy Coney Barrett—a constitutional conservative confirmed by the U.S. Senate before Election Day was the deciding vote.

“This is a really good sign for religious freedom,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice.  “It appears that we now have a majority of Supreme Court Justices who are committed to religious liberty,” said ACLJ executive director Jordan Sekulow. “Many government officials have exploited the pandemic to impose previously unimaginable restrictions on religious worship.”

Meanwhile, the ACLJ earlier this week filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court in Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church v. Pritzker, another case in which state officials have imposed discriminatory restrictions on religious worship in the name of protecting against COVID-19.

“The governor of Illinois issued an Order that singled out churches for worse treatment than other comparable organizations,” said Laura Hernandez of the ACLJ. The Order restricts in-person worship services of 10 persons within churches but allows unlimited numbers to assemble in the same building for other purposes.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling on Harvest Rock Church, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel said: “We have religious discrimination in the United States; but this year we have crossed the line to religious persecution. When you are in a State like California or a County like Ventura—where you are located and so many other churches throughout California; it is criminal up to a year in prison for attending church with even two people meeting together in a church or even having a Bible study or worship in a condo, apartment, home and that is criminal I think we have crossed the line from discrimination to persecution.”

(Editor’s Note: To view the lawsuit filed by Pasadena Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministries to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan  go to: https://lc.org/113020HRCEmergencyApplicationforWritofInjunctionSCOTUS.pdf.)

 

Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor. He worked 25 years as a middle school teacher in Monrovia and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].


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