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Free at last in California

Court blocks the state’s restrictions on indoor worship

Congregants at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles in June Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes (file)

Free at last in California

In the first successful challenge to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pandemic restrictions on churches, a California state court found the total ban on indoor worship unconstitutionally inhibits the free exercise of religion. Bakersfield Superior Court Judge Gregory Pulskamp on Thursday blocked Newsom from enforcing the order against Fr. Trevor Burfitt and the Catholic parishes he oversees, including congregations in Kern, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Los Angeles counties.

Pulskamp pointed to the Supreme Court’s Thanksgiving eve ruling where the justices struck down an even less restrictive order imposed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “What then should the courts think of California’s total ban on indoor services?”

Burfitt’s attorney, Christopher Ferrara of the Thomas More Society, slammed the idea that “churches are somehow more dangerous viral vectors than any of the litany of ‘essential businesses.’”

A federal court in Southern California is reconsidering its dismissal of a similar claim from Los Angeles-area Harvest Rock Church after the Supreme Court sent the case back for a second look in light of its New York ruling.

The court’s strong affirmation of religious liberty is rippling through other states as well. A federal appeals court is weighing the constitutionality of Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s restrictions capping church attendance at 50 while allowing casinos and many other businesses to open at 50 percent capacity. A divided Supreme Court denied relief to the churches in July. And in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis lifted attendance limits on indoor services and deemed houses of worship essential.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in Brooklyn Diocese v. Cuomo has opened the way to the liberation of churches from the absurd and bigoted superstition that they are veritable death chambers threatening the entire population,” Ferrara said. “Not even hair salons, which by the services offered necessitate close personal contact, have been subjected to the onerous and barefaced biases heaped upon houses of worship.”

Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C.



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