A group of churches in California are coming together to sue the state’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom along with various other officials for social distancing orders that have stopped them from being able to hold services in person.
California is one of many states that have banned gatherings of over ten people due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while some other states have included exemptions for religious organizations, California has not done this.
“The state does not get to dictate the method of worship to the faithful,” said Harmeet K. Dhillon, chief executive of the nonprofit organization Center for American Liberty, in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times. “If a Californian is able to go to Costco or the local marijuana shop or liquor store and buy goods in a responsible, socially distanced manner, then he or she must be allowed to practice their faith using the same precautions.”
The lawsuit was filed by the Center for American Liberty on the behalf of plaintiffs that include Church Unlimited Pastor James Moffatt; the pastor of Shield of Faith Family Church; and the pastor of Word of Life Ministries. The lawsuit was filed days after Moffatt was fined 1,000 for holding church service in Riverside County on Palm Sunday.
Moffatt states in the lawsuit that as a minister, he feels that as a minister, he is required to physically lay hands on the sick and to baptize people personally.
John C. Eastman, a professor of law and community service at Chapman University in Orange, told The Times that he feels the suit “has merit.”
“Obviously, stopping a pandemic is a compelling government interest,” Eastman explained, but he added that the issue at hand is if orders being given by officials are narrowly tailored enough to meet the strict scrutiny required of laws dealing with religion.
“Services with only a single family in a pew, and spaced three pews apart, with everyone wearing masks and gloves, would accomplish the government’s purpose in a much less draconian way,” he continued.
The way that Christian churches have been treated amidst the coronavirus pandemic is nothing short of shameful. We can only hope that this lawsuit is a success, and that liberal governments are sent the message that they can never have the power over religious groups that they crave.