The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 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.”
“We’re 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 governor’s 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 Newsom’s plan to restart the state economy. Churches are not allowed to reopen until the plan’s third phase.
Trump-appointed Judge Daniel Collins dissented, writing “the State’s 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.