Churches Still on Lockdown as San Diego Congregation Sends Emergency Appeal to US Supreme Court


THOMAS MORE SOCIETY —

The San Diego church suing California Governor Gavin Newsom for COVID-prompted discrimination is again seeking emergency intervention from the United States Supreme Court in order to hold unrestricted indoor worship despite a gubernatorial ban on it. Even following Newsom’s “lifting” of the regional stay-at-home order on January 25, 2021, churches are still not free to worship unrestricted. Thomas More Society Special Counsel Charles LiMandri, partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP, pointed out that while Newsom is allowing personal service venues such as hair and nail salons or massage parlors to reopen, the governor persists in only allowing church services outdoors.

“The governor’s ill treatment of houses of worship is indefensible,” stated LiMandri. “To deny churches to hold indoor worship – even socially distanced – while allowing services that permit close personal contact and repeated touch, with client and provider separated by mere inches – is nothing short of hypocritical and discriminatory. Governor Newsom is violating First Amendment religious freedom rights and is also demonstrating a flagrant disregard for California citizens and their deeply and sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Attorneys from the Thomas More Society have filed an Emergency Application for Writ of Injunction; Relief Requested before Sunday, January 31, 2021, in hopes of having protection for upcoming worship services on Sunday at South Bay United Pentecostal Church in San Diego County’s Chula Vista. This request was filed with the Supreme Court on January 25 and the State of California has until 5 p.m. (Eastern) on January 29 to submit a response.

LiMandri explained why South Bay United Pentecostal Church is again reaching out to the Supreme Court despite the high court’s earlier rejection of an emergency request. Other LiMandri & Jonna attorneys working alongside him on this case include Paul M. Jonna and Jeffrey M. Trissell.

“The biggest reason for our confidence in this Emergency Application is the Thanksgiving Eve Supreme Court decision in Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo,” stated LiMandri. “Concurring with the decision to grant relief to New York’s Roman Catholic churches, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that it was time to dispel ‘misconceptions about the role of the Constitution in times of crisis, which have already been permitted to persist for too long. It is time – past time – to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques.’ South Bay United Pentecostal Church is asking the high court to grant them the same relief.

“Like Governor Cuomo in New York,” pointed out LiMandri, “California’s Governor Newsom has chosen to appoint himself above the Constitution, choosing who is allowed to go where and do what, arbitrarily shutting down churches and banning singing.”

Under Newsom’s California “Blueprint” framework, places of worship are treated disparately, and the discrimination has been exacerbated by the targeting of a core practice of religious expression – the ability to raise one’s voice to worship God in song.

“While millions of Californians across the state in a wide range of industries have been able to resume working and shopping under mask-wearing and social distancing protocols, church services remain a disfavored activity in the eyes of Governor Newsom and the County of San Diego. This is blatant unconstitutional religious discrimination and cannot be tolerated,” added LiMandri.

LiMandri emphasized the importance of returning to the Supreme Court with this request. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that an ‘emergency does not increase granted power’; however, the coronavirus pandemic has been used to justify the broad overreach of the police power of the state with regard to religious expression, effectively removing our cherished freedom of worship as a ‘first class right’,” LiMandri summarized. “We cannot afford to let tyranny against religion rise in the guise of well-meaning governmental ‘protections’.”

In addition to Newsom, in his gubernatorial office, the complaint also names California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Acting California Public Health Officer Sandra Shewry, San Diego County Director of Emergency Services Helen Robbins-Meyer, San Diego County Public Health Officer Wilma J. Wooten, and San Diego County Sherriff William Gore, each in his or her official capacity.

Read the Thomas More Society’s Emergency Application for Writ of Injunction – Relief Requested before Sunday, January 31, 2021, submitted to the Honorable Elena Kagan, Associate Justice of the United States and Circuit Justice for the Ninth Circuit, in South Bay United Pentecostal Church, et al v. Gavin Newsom, et al., [Docket No. 20A136] on January 25, 2021, here.

SOURCE Thomas More Society

PHOTO CREDIT: Monica Arellano-Ongpin

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