California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) reached a legal settlement with a church earlier this month that would see him pay $1.35 million for strict coronavirus restrictions imposed on houses of worship.
The story: The California District Court last week entered an order approving the settlement of a lawsuit filed by Liberty Counsel, who represented Pasadena’s Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, and the embattled governor of California.
“Although Defendant continues to dispute Plaintiffs’ claims, Defendant as well as Plaintiffs wish to resolve this matter now and hereby consent to entry of judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, and to entry of a permanent injunction and order of dismissal,” a court document said, according to Pasadena Now.
Under the settlement, Newsom, as governor, has to pay $1.35 million reimbursements of attorney’s fees and costs and will no longer be allowed to force some restrictions on any houses of worship in the state, except in certain situations where the number of coronavirus cases would drastically rise.
The exceptions: Specifically, California could limit church gatherings if it records 26 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people on a state level, sees child infection skyrocket by 100%, or have an ICU hospital bed capacity that’s below 20%, according to U.S. District Court Judge Jesus G. Bernal’s ruling.
How we got here: The Harvest Rock Church sued Newsom last year after he introduced a series of pandemic-related restrictions and did not include churches on the list of essential businesses in the state.
This meant churches, like all non-essential businesses in California, had to close entirely in the first months of the pandemic before they were allowed to operate at only 25% of their capacity. They were also prohibited from having more than 100 people inside.
California introduced yet another lockdown during the summer where the severity of the restrictions depended on a color-coded tier system that relied on the percentage of cases in given areas in the state.
The lawsuit eventually made it to the Supreme Court which ruled that while the state can impose some rules, which ruled in a 6-3 decision that churches in the orange zone could allow 200 worshippers inside.
Worth noting: The California governor had already nixed restrictions in churches in mid-April, saying the rules are not mandatory but that the government recommends that houses of worship follow them.
Newsom cited “recent judicial rulings” including a Supreme Court decision that the state cannot restrict at-home Bible studies.
What they’re saying: “Governor Gavin Newsom’s COVID restrictions intentionally discriminated against churches while providing preferential treatment to many secular businesses and gatherings. The Supreme Court intervened multiple times to provide relief. California may never again place discriminatory restrictions on churches and places of worship,” said Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver, the Washington Examiner reports.
Staver also called Newsom “the worst governor in America,” adding that the “pastor and parishioners were threatened with daily criminal charges that were up to a year in prison” because the church stayed open during the pandemic.
“Gov. Newsom has always put the health and well-being of Californians first, resulting in the lowest positivity rates in the country and over 35 million shots in arms — more than any other state … This settlement resolves this case while providing clarity and certainty to the public around the public health standards applicable to places of worship following recent rulings by the US Supreme Court,” Newsom said in a statement.
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