Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry filed its response today to the federal district court of California seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Governor Gavin Newsom’s unconstitutional orders.
On Thursday, December 3, the High Court granted cert, vacated the lower court orders involving the emergency petition of the churches, and directed the district court to reconsider in light of the Court’s decision granting an injunction for churches and synagogues in New York. However, after a brief hearing in the district court, the judge failed to abide by the High Court’s instructions and only imposed the very irreparable harm that the Supreme Court found in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo and Agudath Israel v. Cuomo. On Saturday, December 5, the district court set a hearing for December 8. However, the court then granted Gov. Newsom more time so he could file yet another brief on December 14, followed by a hearing on December 18.
Until Catholic Diocese was issued, courts throughout the country—including the Supreme Court itself—had issued conflicting rulings as to whether discriminatory treatment of religious gatherings as compared to so-called “essential” businesses was subject to strict scrutiny during a perceived emergency or pandemic. However, in that case, the High Court held unequivocally that COVID-19 restrictions, such as those at issue with the California churches, “cannot be viewed as neutral because they single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”
This week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley and Calvary Chapel Lone Mountain in their lawsuits against Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak’s unconstitutional worship bans. In the opinion the court wrote, “The Supreme Court’s recent decision . . . arguably represented a seismic shift in Free Exercise law, and compels the result in this case.”
In today’s reply brief, the churches emphasize that Newsom’s “Blueprint” singles out religious worship and imposes discriminatory prohibitions on churches that are not imposed on similar nonreligious entities such as is addressed in Catholic Diocese and Calvary Chapel. For example, in Tier 1, churches are totally prohibited from gathering in any number for indoor religious worship yet food packaging and processing plants, laundromats, and warehouses are permitted to operate with no numerical or capacity restrictions.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The Supreme Court has already issued its Constitutional roadmap for places of worship that leads to the inevitable conclusion: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive edicts violate the First Amendment. The High Court has ruled and therefore all lower courts must obey that decision to allow churches their First Amendment freedom.”