California's restrictions on houses of worship are proving to be costly.
The state in recent days agreed to pay $1.6 million in attorney’s fees to settle a lawsuit filed by South Bay United Pentecostal Church. It also agreed to pay $550,000 in attorney’s fees to settle a lawsuit filed by a Catholic priest, Father Trevor Burfitt.
All total, the state of California owes $2,150,000 in the two cases that were filed by the Thomas More Society.
“Plaintiffs should be and hereby are declared prevailing parties,” U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant wrote, referencing South Bay United Pentecostal Church.
Thomas More Society applauded the settlements, saying it means “religious liberty triumphs.”
“The South Bay case represents an unprecedented three trips to the United States Supreme Court in a one-year period, which resulted in a landmark decision that opened up the churches in California for 40 million people,” said Charles LiMandri, special counsel for the Thomas More Society. “The permanent injunctions in these cases uphold and protect one of the most cherished principles of our republic: The Free Exercise of Religion.”
Bashant, in a June 1 injunction, prohibited California Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officers from “issuing or enforcing regulations” against houses of worship.
“The settlement terms in these cases track the United States Supreme Court’s seminal holding in South Bay v. Newsom, and the basic constitutional principle is simple and now cemented into permanent statewide injunctions,” said Thomas More Society special counsel Paul Jonna. “Restrictions on churches cannot be more severe than restrictions on retail. We are pleased with the final results in these two important cases.”
The U.S. Supreme Court last November issued a major decision preventing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo from enforcing a restriction limiting houses of worship to 10 and 25 persons, depending on the location.
The Supreme Court followed that decision by vacating lower court decisions against houses of worship in multiple states, including in California.
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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.