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Church Asks Supreme Court to Smack Down California Governor’s Restrictions on In-Person Worship

A California church which made a bid to reopen but was denied by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last Friday has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to smack down Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions on in-person worship.

South Bay United Pentecostal Church and Bishop Arthur Hodges III submitted an emergency application for a writ of injunction which asked for emergency relief by Sunday, May 24. Their attorneys say that Newsom’s orders arbitrarily discriminate against places of worship and violate the Constitution:

Pursuant to Rules 20, 22 and 23 of the Rules of this Court, and 28 U.S.C. § 1651, Appellants-Applicants South Bay United Pentecostal Church and Bishop Arthur Hodges III (“Plaintiffs”) respectfully request a writ of injunction precluding enforcement against them of various “Stay-at-Home” orders that were issued by the State of California and the County of San Diego to help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although curbing the pandemic is a laudable goal, those orders arbitrarily discriminate against places of worship in violation of their right to the Free Exercise of Religion under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

[…]

The COVID-19 pandemic is a national tragedy, but it would be equally tragic if the federal judiciary allowed the “fog-of-war” to act as an excuse for violating fundamental constitutional rights.

“We are not asking for an exception, but want to be included in the equation. We want this case decided by the Supreme Court once and for all so that we don’t face this again,” Hodges said.

The application submitted to Justice Elena Kagan presented the following question: “Does California’s four stage Reopening Plan, which permits manufacturing, warehousing, retail, offices, seated dining at restaurants, and schools to reopen, but not places of worship, violate the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?”

Last Friday, President Donald Trump declared houses of worship “essential” and threatened to “override” states that don’t allow them to reopen.

“If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less,” he said. The Department of Justice issued a BOLO in late April.

“Now, I am directing each of our United States Attorneys to also be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens,” Attorney General William Barr wrote.

Newsom said he would release guidelines for reopening of churches on Monday.

You can read the South Bay United Pentecostal Church application below:

South Bay United Pentecosta… by Law&Crime on Scribd

[Image via SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.