Governor Gavin Newsom suddenly abandoned his 10-month old COVID-19 singing ban on churches last Friday, in response to a series of court losses before the U.S. Supreme Court. The governor had already abandoned mandating church capacity limits several weeks ago after justices rebuked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Governor for continuing to violate the religious liberty rights of churches by imposing pandemic regulations favoring secular businesses and services.
“This is the fifth time the Court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise,” The U.S. Supreme Court wrote in a 5 to 4 decision on Tandon v. Newsom April 9, 2021.
Newsom’s Covid-19 website now says religious service capacity limits and singing restrictions are “strongly recommended,” not “mandatory.” “In response to recent judicial rulings, effective immediately, location and capacity limits on places of worship are not mandatory but are strongly recommended. Additionally, the restrictions on indoor singing and chanting are recommended only, and are consistent with the recommendations in the guidance on gatherings,” the website reads under the heading, “Places of worship and cultural ceremonies – updated April 23, 2021.”
“All Californians owe a debt of gratitude to the faith leaders and civil rights groups who stood up to the governor’s illegal violations of our religious liberty rights. Without their willingness to peacefully resist and speak up, houses of worship would still be in lockdown,” said Jonathan Keller, President of California Family Council. “A pandemic is no excuse to discriminate against believers. Our Constitution mandates that religious practice be treated as essential, not tossed aside and treated like a frivolous pastime.”
One of the first attorneys to file a lawsuit against Newsom’s illegal church building closures was Dean Broyles, President of the National Center for Law and Policy.
“While California’s lifting of the capacity limits and worship ban are indeed welcome, it is incredible that it took this long for Governor Newsom to see the handwriting on the wall,” stated Broyles. “It was clear back on November 25, 2020, when the Supreme Court issued its game-changing ruling in Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo that California’s draconian church restrictions were blatantly unconstitutional. California’s persisting religious antipathy and stubborn resistance towards people of faith are unique among many poor national examples. “
“Californians have endured a lot of unnecessary collateral damage, including spiritually,” continued Broyles. “If we are to remain a free people, we must never again allow a virus, or any other declared emergency, to suspend our fundamental constitutional rights.”
The Fight is Not Over
Although he welcomes Newsom’s policy changes, Broyles said the fight is not over since the governor’s changes aren’t permanent. Last Friday, Broyles filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit in Cornerstone Church v. Newsom (a.k.a. Cross Culture Christian Center v. Newsom), a case which challenges church capacity limits. The appeal is necessary because of Newsom’s track record of “moving the goalposts.”
Last Thursday, Broyles, along with attorneys with the American Center for Law and Justice and Advocates for Faith and Freedom, also filed an amended complaint in Calvary Chapel Ukiah v. Newsom, a case involving a church 60 miles north of Santa Rosa, which continues to challenge California’s ability to impose a congregational worship ban. Broyles says the fight must continue because, if there is another spike in infections, California could quickly reimpose unconstitutional religious restrictions (i.e. capacity limits and worship ban) if the State is not enjoined.