One week after handing a major religious liberty victory to New York churches and synagogues, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday gave hope to California churches.
The justices, in a one-page unsigned order, vacated a lower court ruling from September that had upheld California’s restrictions on churches as part of a lawsuit filed by Harvest Church and Harvest International.
The order vacated that decision against the church and remanded the case to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals “for further consideration in light of Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo” – the name of the case in last week’s Supreme Court’s decision.
The high court last week in a 5-4 decision prohibited New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo from enforcing a restriction that limits houses of worship in COVID-19 hotspots to 10 and 25 persons during the pandemic, no matter the size of the building.
The Ninth Circuit now will consider the Harvest Rock case in light of the Supreme Court’s New York ruling. Harvest Rock has campuses in Pasadena, Los Angeles, Irvine and Corona, among other locations. Harvest International has 162 member churches.
Harvest Rock’s pastor, Che Ahn, has said the church requires social distancing and asks congregants to wear masks.
Liberty Counsel, which represented Harvest Rock and Harvest International, applauded the Supreme Court for getting involved. The restrictions in California, Liberty Counsel said, are “more severe than those in New York.”
“Governor Gavin Newsom’s orders ban ALL in-person worship for 99.1 percent of Californians,” Liberty Counsel said.
California’s color-coded system places the most restrictions on churches in purple counties. As of Tuesday, 51 of the 58 counties were purple.
The city of Pasadena has threatened Harvest Rock with prison and fines.
“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court provides great relief for churches and places of worship,” said Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver. “The handwriting is now on the wall. The final days of Governor Gavin Newsom’s ‘color-coded executive edicts’ banning worship are numbered and coming to an end. It is past time to end these unconstitutional restrictions on places of worship.”
Photo courtesy: Harold Mendoza/Unsplash
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.