Chula Vista Church Gets Expedited Appeal in Religious Rights Lawsuit Against California Governor

THOMAS MORE SOCIETY — A Chula Vista church seeking to hold in-person worship services is now heading to the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals. The lawsuit by the South Bay United Pentecostal Church congregation and pastor is claiming that the state’s governor and other officials have issued unconstitutional orders during the coronavirus pandemic in violation of religious rights. The Thomas More Society filed an Urgent Motion for an Injunction Pending Appeal on May 16, 2020, with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which the court has set on the fast track for quick decision.

The church’s initial request to be open for worship during the COVID-19 pandemic, filed on May 11, 2020, was denied by a San Diego federal judge appointed by President Obama. On May 15, 2020, United States District Judge Cynthia Bashant, originally from San Francisco, said the state’s order placed churches under Stage 3 [of the reopening plan] because “the services involve people sitting together in a closed environment for long periods of time.” Judge Bashant rejected the church’s argument that the state’s reopening plan is dismissive of the religious rights of Californians.

South Bay United Pentecostal Church and its senior pastor, Bishop Arthur Hodges III, sued Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state and local officials last week for classifying churches with movie theaters, salons, and gyms, rather than with “essential” operations.

“It is significant that the Ninth Circuit set an expedited briefing schedule. It shows that they are taking our urgent appeal seriously,” stated Charles LiMandri, Special Counsel for the Thomas More Society and partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP. “If we win at the Ninth Circuit, then the most populous state in the union can start religious services again, and we will have vindicated our constitutional rights, and struck a blow against tyranny. If we lose at the Ninth Circuit, then we will have a split in the Federal Circuit Courts with the Sixth Circuit, and we will file an immediate emergency appeal with the United States Supreme Court. Either way, the outcome of this case stands to have a major potential impact on our religious liberty and our nation’s constitutional jurisprudence.”

The Sixth United States Circuit Court of Appeals at Cincinnati ruled on May 9, 2020, that the Maryville Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, may host in-person church services while in the midst of suing that state’s governor for banning church services. South Bay United Pentecostal Church and its pastor, Bishop Arthur Hodges III, are seeking similar action by way of a temporary restraining order against state and county officials, to keep them from enforcing the California ban on church services.

LiMandri has called California’s unconstitutional relegation of people of faith to third class citizenship “mindboggling.” He noted that “California is one of only eight states whose response to the COVID-19 pandemic has included no accommodation for – hardly even a mention of – the religious rights of its citizens.”

The brief states that churches and religious leaders of California are “no less essential” than its retail stores, schools, and offices, to the health and well-being of its residents. It further labels the state’s treatment of churches as a violation of the inherent rights granted to every American via the United States Constitution and its First and Fourteenth Amendments.

This federal legal action is the direct result of Governor Gavin Newsom’s discriminatory executive orders and threatening criminal enforcement thereof, according to LiMandri. He also makes note that Newsom’s “Reopening Plan” is riddled with exceptions, none of which are favorable to churches.

Included in the filing are photographs of closely grouped and masked workers at nonessential Los Angeles metro area cosmetics and garment factories that were allowed to reopen as of May 8, 2020, under the governor’s orders. The South Bay United Pentecostal Church wants to know why it cannot open its spacious sanctuary with the same sanitation and safety protocols.

Read the Thomas More Society’s Urgent Motion for an Injunction Pending Appeal Under Circuit Rule 27-3(b) Relief Requested by Sunday, May 17, 2020, on behalf of South Bay United Pentecostal Church and Bishop Arthur Hodges III, filed May 16, 2020, with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in South Bay United Pentecostal Church, et al v. Gavin Newsom, et al, here.

SOURCE Thomas More Society

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