Editor's Note, May 24, 2021: The opening paragraph of this piece has been updated to reflect that Harvest Rock Church will receive the $1.3 million to pay for attorney's fees and costs.
After placing restrictions on churches that were blocked by the Supreme Court, the state of California owes $1.3 million to a Pasadena congregation for attorneys' fees.
A U.S. district judge last Friday released an order "permanently" enjoining the state from issuing or enforcing "any capacity or numerical restrictions on religious worship services" that are prohibited by recent Supreme Court precedent.
The high court last November blocked restrictions on churches in New York state. The justices subsequently issued a series of rulings prohibiting other states – including California – from placing restrictions on churches that are more severe than those placed on other gatherings.
Friday's order from District Judge Jesus G. Bernal involved a lawsuit filed by Liberty Counsel on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry. Bernal was nominated by President Obama.
Bernal also ordered California to pay the church $1,350,000 in attorneys' fees and costs.
Harvest Rock and Harvest International were "declared prevailing parties" in Bernal's order.
Bernal cited Supreme Court precedent from the past year.
"Gov. Gavin Newsom's COVID restrictions intentionally discriminated against churches while providing preferential treatment to many secular businesses and gatherings," said Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver. "The Supreme Court intervened multiple times to provide relief. California may never again place discriminatory restrictions on churches and places of worship. Gov. Gavin Newsom has now been permanently quarantined and may not violate the First Amendment rights of churches and places of worship again."
At one point in recent months, the local government threatened Harvest Rock Pastor Ché Ahn with jail for violating COVID restrictions.
Ahn called the court's decision a "momentous day for churches in America."
"I am thrilled to see the complete reversal of the last discriminatory restrictions against churches in California, knowing this case will act as a precedent, not only in our state, but also in our nation," Ahn said. "We are incredibly grateful to our attorney Mat Staver and to Liberty Counsel for their relentless support and fierce determination. Most of all, we give all the glory to God for moving mightily in this historic season!"
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Ehrlif
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.