California pays $1.35 million settlement over COVID-19 restrictions on churches
The money paid to Liberty Counsel will be used to continue litigation on behalf of other churches against COVID restrictions.
One year after Liberty Counsel sued Gov. Gavin Newsom on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, the state of California has paid a $1.35 million settlement.
As a result of Liberty Counsel’s lawsuit, a federal district court in May approved the first state-wide permanent injunction in the U.S. against COVID restrictions on churches and places of worship. Under the statewide permanent injunction, all California churches were allowed to hold worship services without discriminatory restrictions. The injunction also required the state of California to pay $1.35 million to Liberty Counsel to cover attorney’s fees and other costs.
The money will be used to continue litigation on behalf of other churches against COVID restrictions, including a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, the nonprofit religious freedom organization said in a statement. A portion of the payment also will be used to pay off the mortgage on its Washington, D.C., ministry center, which hosts Bible studies and religious gatherings.
“Ironically, the payment from California which had the worst COVID restrictions on churches and places of worship, will be used to advance Bible studies and worship in the nation’s capital,” Liberty Counsel said.
Newsom, who is facing a recall election on Sept. 14, was the first to impose the most severe restrictions on churches, home Bible studies and worship in the nation, Liberty Counsel argued. The U.S. Supreme Court also reprimanded the governor in an unusual move, as well as the Ninth Circuit, for repeatedly not following its instructions.
The Harvest Rock case involved three emergency injunctions pending appeal at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, two oral arguments before a panel of three judges, and two orders from the U.S. Supreme Court, including an injunction pending appeal issued by the court on Feb. 5, 2021.
From March 19 to May 25, 2020, Newsom ordered that no group worship be allowed in California due to the coronavirus.
From May 26 to July 12, 2020, he changed his shutdown order to allow 25% capacity but no more than 100 people in a building to worship.
From July 13, 2020 to April 8, 2021, no public worship was permitted by executive order for over 90% of Californians.
From April 9 to April 12, 2021, restrictions on home Bible study were lifted but restrictions were not lifted on singing and chanting only for worship purposes; commercial singing and chanting in Hollywood and elsewhere was allowed.
From April 13 to May 9, 2021, mandatory attendance limits were lifted, and by May 17, 2021, restrictions on houses of worship were permanently removed.
Liberty Counsel argued that Newsom discriminated against houses of worship by imposing restrictions on them while not imposing them on grocery stores, warehouses, big box stores, transportation, infrastructure, telecommunications, and others designated as “critical infrastructure” or “essential services.” The U.S. Supreme Court agreed.
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