California Won’t Impose Further Restrictions On Churches And Will Pay $2M For Legal Fees Following Court Decision

South Bay United Pentecostal Church
South Bay United Pentecostal Church, from a post in April 2020 |

In a pair of settlements that require more than $2 million in compensation to the attorneys who challenged the laws for breach of religious freedom, the state of California has agreed to refrain from imposing coronavirus regulations on church meetings that are no more rigorous than retail venues.

On Tuesday, a federal court in San Diego granted final approval to a settlement between the churches and the state, which is the culmination of the previous three Supreme Court challenges that resulted in a win for the church, reports CBS Sacramento.

Attorney Paul Jonna said that the settlement includes a permanent injunction in keeping with decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court that ruled limitations on places of worship cannot be greater than those on retail companies.

"If they're gonna restrict Costco to 50%, then they can do the same thing to churches," he said. "But what they were doing before, as you may remember, is they were keeping those places open and they were shutting down churches - at least in California - completely."

The attorney added that though the settlements only pertain to limitations enforced for the COVID-19 outbreak, he believes the state will not put tougher limitations on churches in the future due to the recent Supreme Court decision.

The settlements in this case include a lawsuit that was initiated by the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and Bakersfield Catholic priest Fr. Trevor Burfitt who sued in Kern County Superior Court.

Litigation for the Thomas More Society, a conservative public interest law firm, is estimated to cost about $1.6 million in the South Bay case and $550,000 with regards to the Burfitt case.

Complications with Newsom's Shutdown Orders

As the case rate of COVID-19 has declined significantly, Gov. Gavin Newsom is prepared to relax all COVID-19 restrictions on June 15.

Newsom's office also published a statement in which he claimed that he placed the health of Californians first when he implemented shutdown orders, reports Centre Daily. The statement also said that the settlements give clarification on how public health rules may apply to churches.

Before he issued a nationwide pandemic preparedness order in March 2020, Governor Newsom was the first to implement a house quarantine at the beginning of the crisis. In response to his many closure orders and revisions that permitted certain enterprises to operate at differing capacities, the courts heard challenges at both the state and federal levels.

Health orders prohibiting public activities were generally upheld until last year, when a vacancy in the Supreme Court created by the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the appointment of conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett led to victories for religious groups.

In a separate legal battle, Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena and Harvest International Ministry challenged Newsom's limitation orders. They questioned why small Bible study groups are not permitted yet all other small events, markets, and companies are.

The churches won their lawsuit, and the California government was required to pay $1.3 million in legal fees as part of the settlement.