Court upholds Newsom's coronavirus ban on in-person church services in California

 latimes.com  05/23/2020 20:12:08 

Huntington Beach protest
Wally Thomas of Lake Forest and Denean MacAndrew of Mission Viejo take part in a protest in Huntington Beach on May 9.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Gov. Gavin Newsoms ban on in-person church services, in a split ruling that landed Friday night and is likely to further anger pastors who claim that California is trampling on religious freedoms.

The South Bay United Pentecostal Church in San Diego cannot reopen immediately, the two judges in the majority wrote in their order, because in this case constitutional standards that would normally govern our review of a Free Exercise claim should not be applied.

Were dealing here with a highly contagious and often fatal disease for which there presently is no known cure. In the words of Justice Robert Jackson, if a [c]ourt does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact, they wrote.

The decision came the same week more than 1,200 pastors vowed to hold in-person services May 31, Pentecost Sunday, defying a state moratorium on religious gatherings that Newsom imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In a letter to Newsom, Robert H. Tyler, an attorney representing a Lodi church that has challenged the governors order in court, said more than 1,200 pastors have signed a Declaration of Essentiality, asserting their churches are as essential as any grocery or hardware store and should be allowed to reopen.

By Wednesday, many counties in California had received approval to reopen establishments  retail business, office buildings, restaurants, shopping centers  as permitted in the second phase of Newsoms plan to restart the state economy. Churches are not allowed to reopen until the plans third phase.

Trump-appointed Judge Daniel Collins dissented, writing the States position on this score illogically assumes that the very same people who cannot be trusted to follow the rules at their place of worship can be trusted to do so at their workplace.

Newsom has vowed to provide plans on reopening churches Monday, after previously saying that such reopenings were just a few weeks away. Some churches that have opened without authorization have been sources for spreading the coronavirus, including in Butte, Mendocino and Lake counties.

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Sonali Kohli is a reporter covering education for the Los Angeles Times. A product of Southern California, she grew up in Diamond Bar and graduated from UCLA. She worked as a metro reporter for the Orange County Register and as a reporter covering education and diversity for Quartz before joining The Times in 2015.
Matthew Ormseth is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Before joining The Times in 2018, he covered city news and state politics at the Hartford Courant. He grew up in Arcadia and graduated from Cornell University.
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