California’s prohibition of religious services is upheld in the Federal Appeals Court

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California's prohibition of religious services is upheld in the Federal Appeals Court
California's prohibition of religious services is upheld in the Federal Appeals Court

A federal court of appeals rejected the lawsuit of a California church hoping to overturn the state’s prohibition of in-person church services.

Earlier this month, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a case brought by the United Pentecostal Church of South Bay in Chula Vista, California.

The complaint alleged that California Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officials infringed on First Amendment rights of the church with stay-at-home orders given due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The court upheld the state’s ban in a 2-1 ruling, finding it did not violate the First Amendment. According to the ruling a federal district court rejected the application for a provisional injunction on May 15.

California's prohibition of religious services is upheld in the Federal Appeals Court
California’s prohibition of religious services is upheld in the Federal Appeals Court

Where State intervention does not ‘infringe or limit activities on account of their religious intent’ and does not ‘impose restrictions even on religiously motivated behavior in a limited manner,’ it does not infringe the First Amendment, the ruling said.

The plaintiffs filed the complaint and on May 8, shortly after the governor declared on May 4 that the state would join stage two of his four-phase reopening program, for a temporary injunction.

Under the current plan of Newsom, churches would be allowed to reopen in stage three of the plan as, according to the ruling, churches are a higher-risk place of employment.

Here we are concerned with a highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease for which there is currently no known cure.

In Justice Robert Jackson’s words, if a court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, the ruling states will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.

Judges Jacqueline Nguyen and Barry Silverman ruled California favor. Ruling Judge Daniel Collins disagreed. He wrote that the State violated the First Amendment rights of the church to exercise their religious faith freely.

By assigning explicitly and categorically all in-person ‘religious services’ to a future phase 3 — without express consideration of the number of attendees, the size of the space or the safety protocols followed in those services — Collins wrote that the State’s Reopening Plan undeniably discriminates against religious conduct on its face.

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