California AG Asks SCOTUS To Ignore Appeal of Faith Communities

On Monday California’s attorney general Xavier Becerra urged the Supreme Court to reject a petition from a group of California churches disputing Governor Newsom’s coronavirus restrictions on gathering for religious worship.

In a legal brief submitted to the highest court, AG Becarra defended Governor Gavin Newsom’s strict limitations and restrictions that have been placed on religious gatherings in California against a dispute that was filed by churches belonging to the Harvest International Ministry. The churches have been locked in a legal battle with Governor Newsom since July, when they sued the governor for banning singing and indoor religious services. In his response to the Supreme Court Becerra said that the restrictions on churches have become justified.

“Scientific knowledge concerning COVID-19 is rapidly developing and now provides even stronger support than before for the restrictions at issue,” he wrote. “More importantly, like many other parts of the nation, California is experiencing an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases, creating an even greater public health need for restrictions on prolonged communal gatherings in indoor places.”

Just last week the nation’s highest court handed houses of worship in New York a massive win against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus orders, where in a 5-4 decision, it sided with Catholic churches and synagogues in a similar dispute. In that case, in which the houses of worship requested an injunction against Cuomo’s orders, the court ruled that by holding churches to stricter gathering limitations than businesses, New York struck “at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”

The state’s response comes about a week after the churches appealed to the Supreme Court for an injunction, citing Newsom’s own violations of his orders as an example of unequal application of his orders. Their complaint included pictures of the governor dining, maskless, indoors and surrounded by a large group of people to whom he is not related.

The attorney representing the churches, Mat Staver, president of the free speech legal nonprofit group Liberty Counsel, referencing the court’s decision on New York churches, said he is confident that it will rule similarly in this case.

“I have always said it is just a matter of time when these discriminatory orders imposed on places of worship are struck down nationwide,” he said. “That time is inching closer each day.”