Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor, May 17, 2021C
(The Center Square) – The state of California has settled a lawsuit brought against it by Liberty Counsel on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry.
All California churches can now hold worship services without restrictions as a result of the settlement. California Gov. Gavin Newsom was the first governor to have a permanent injunction levied against him on behalf of houses of worship.
On May 10, Liberty Counsel and the California Attorney General’s Office submitted a full and final settlement to both the district court and to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. As a result, California is now under a statewide permanent injunction from imposing restrictions on churches and houses of worship.
Once entered by the district court, the settlement will be the first statewide permanent injunction in the U.S. against COVID restrictions on churches and houses of worship.
Liberty Counsel founder and Chairman Mat Staver said of the settlement, “Governor Gavin Newsom’s COVID restrictions discriminated against churches while providing preferential treatment to many secular businesses and gatherings. The Supreme Court intervened multiple times to provide relief. Under the settlement, California may never again place discriminatory restrictions on churches and places of worship. We are grateful for Pastor Ché Ahn, Harvest Rock Church, and Harvest International Ministry. Pastor Ahn’s leadership and courage has toppled the tyranny and freed every pastor and church in California.”
Newsom is also required to pay Liberty Counsel $1.35 million to reimburse the nonprofit organization for its attorney fees and costs.
The settlement references several Supreme Court opinions, including Harvest Rock Church v. Newsom, noting the high court ruled multiple times that restrictions imposed on houses of worship that were not imposed on nonreligious entities and activities are unconstitutional.
The settlement means that churches and houses of worship “may never again have discriminatory restrictions placed on them that are not equally applied to a long list of ‘critical infrastructure’ or ‘essential services’” outlined in several Supreme Court precedents cited in the agreement.
Liberty Counsel argues “every church in California is now free” because of Harvest Rock’s Pastor Ché Ahn standing up to the Pasadena criminal prosecutor who threatened him, his staff, and anyone who attended church with daily criminal charges of up to one year in prison and daily fines of $1,000.
Newsom’s original restrictions on churches were among the severest in the nation, with 90% of Californians still prohibited from worshipping as of April 8, 2021, more than a year after Newsom issued his first executive order.
The settlement comes after Liberty Counsel filed for 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 high court on Feb. 5.
From March 19, 2020 to May 25, 2020, Newsom by executive order mandated that all churches be prohibited from worshipping.
From May 26, 2020 to July 12, 2020, Newsom mandated that churches be allowed to worship only at 25% capacity with no more than 100 people.
By April 8, 2021, more than 90% of Californians were still prohibited from worshiping together inside. This included over a one-year long ban on Californians participating in home Bible studies and singing and chanting.
As a result of the Supreme Court’s latest ruling, in April 2021 Newsom lifted restrictions on home Bible studies but not on singing and chanting.
By May 9, 2021, Newsom lifted mandatory attendance limits.
Now, under the settlement agreement, restrictions on worship and religious gatherings may no longer be applied to churches and places of worship.
“This is a momentous day for churches in America,” Ché Ahn said, adding “this case will act as a precedent, not only in our state, but also in our nation.”