Photo Credits: Action News Now
overnor Gavin Newsom, like many others, introduced stay-at-home order to slow the spread of COVID-19. He also closed businesses except for those deemed essential and barred group gatherings. Three Southern California churches that want to keep their doors open during the coronavirus outbreak sued Governor Newsom and other officials. They state in the lawsuit that social distancing orders violate the First Amendment right to freedom of religion and assembly. The suit, filed in the federal court for the Central District of California, also names state Attorney General Xavier Becerra and officials of San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
“The state does not get to dictate the method of worship to the faithful,” said Harmeet K. Dhillon, chief executive of the Center for American Liberty, a California nonprofit organization that filed the suit. The lawsuit argues that the orders are unconstitutionally broad.
“If a Californian is able to go to Costco or the local marijuana shop or liquor store and buy goods in a responsible, socially distanced manner, then he or she must be allowed to practice their faith using the same precautions,” she said in a statement.
As Fox 40 reports, one plaintiff, James Moffatt, senior pastor at Church Unlimited in Indio, was fined $1,000 for violating Riverside County’s order by holding a Palm Sunday service, according to the lawsuit.
Moffatt “believes that Scripture commands him as a pastor to lay hands on people and pray for them, this includes the sick,” the suit said. “Moffatt also believes that he is required by Scripture to baptize individuals, something that cannot be done at an online service.”
Churches that filed the lawsuit argue that believers can also practice social distancing with masks and gloves in the same manner as grocery stores and other outlets that are considered essential services and allowed to remain open. On the other side, if someone waits two months to be baptized it would not harm him in any way and it is not an essential need.
Online sermons can easily work during a pandemic, but plaintiffs deny it in the suit: “As a result of not being able to conduct an in-person church service, Plaintiff [James Dean] Moffatt has been deprived of the opportunity for important cultural, socials, and religious activities, including speech activities pertaining to the coronavirus outbreak and the government’s response.”