A legal organization that defends religious freedom in the country is optimistic that the Supreme Court's ruling over California churches is indicative of potential victories for congregations in other states inflicted with heavy fines and charges, violating COVID-19 restrictions.
With a number of cases on churches in the state overturned through its assistance, the Liberty Counsel is hopeful that more congregations in the country would soon enjoy freedom from limitations, Charisma News reported.
The state's permanent injunction against COVID restrictions on churches in California is what the law firm considers its latest major success. With this, houses of worship are now allowed to hold services without restrictions. The ruling has also freed churches from the state government's fines and charges.
The cases and fines against Pastor ChÃ© Ahn of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, as well as his staff and congregants, were dropped. In addition, Gov. Gavin Newsom was also ordered to reimburse the Liberty Counsel with the attorney's fees and costs with $1,350,000.
Other churches that incurred fines include Calvary Chapel San Jose which was fined $3 million, North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara, Los Angeles County's Grace Community Church and Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks. But with the permanent injunction, all their fines would now be written off.
Churches in other states are still fighting against their local government's unreasonable COVID-19 guidance but some are seeing small victories in their battles.
In Maine, the state has imposed discriminatory restrictions on houses of worship. While it allowed commercial and religious gatherings without limitations, it restricted churches to only 50 people regardless of the building's size. Liberty Counsel is currently requesting both the District Court and Supreme Court to block the restrictions on churches.
The law firm is also assisting the two churches in Illinois, the Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries. Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued executive orders that limit houses of worships with only 10 individuals on holding religious gatherings but allow churches to receive people without restrictions on nonreligious activities.
Like Maine, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia also imposed the same guidance in the state, limiting churches to 10 individuals but allowing unlimited people on secular gatherings. For this restriction, the local government has filed criminal charges against Pastor Kevin Wilson of Lighthouse Fellowship Church. But the general district court has dropped the charges against the pastor.
Represented by Liberty Counsel, the church sued Gov. Northam for violating its religious freedom. However, Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the governor could not be sued by the church.
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear issued executive orders that banned religious services but allowed secular gatherings. Aided by Liberty Counsel, the Maryville Baptist Church won an injunction pending appeal on its request for parking lot and indoor worship services. The case continues in the lower court. The Court of Appeals also warned the governor that if he continues to defend his prior orders, the case would return to the same panel of judges that favored the arguments of the church.
In 2020, the synagogues and Roman Catholic churches in Brooklyn, New York were granted an emergency petition for an injunction pending appeal by the Supreme Court.
With these triumphs, Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, declared that the churches across the country would soon be liberated from restrictions and charges inflicted against them.
"The dominoes are falling, and churches are being freed from dictatorial and unconstitutional restrictions. The Supreme Court has intervened multiple times to provide relief. As a result, there will be more restrictions lifted and charges dropped for churches in the near future," Staver stated.