By Tim Hunt
Supreme Court finally upholds religious freedomUploaded: Dec 8, 2020
Churches have been singled out by public health officials and Gov. Gavin Newsom for particularly unconstitutional treatment during the pandemic lockdowns.
Fortunately, with a solid majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, that discrimination has ended. Two weeks ago, the court, in a 5-4 decision, overturned New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s edict limiting church and/or synagogue attendance. Earlier, the court had ruled in favor of the health department in a California case with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the four liberals that included the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. With her passing and the seating of Amy Coney Barrett, Roberts is no longer was the swing vote.
The court remanded a California case back to the 9th Circuit with the request to take a look at the New York case. I listened to two calls concerning churches last week, one focused on re-opening churches that included several pastors locked in struggles with the local health authorities.
One, Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, had been threatened with criminal prosecution by the city’s prosecutor. The church received a letter from the city that threatened Senior Pastor Che Ahn with arrest and a year in jail, while people attending the service were notified they were subject to arrest and $1,000 fines.
Here in the Bay Area most churches are complying with the health orders and worshiping online. The notable exception is Calvary Chapel in San Jose. The health department has been fining the church $5,000 per day and went to court last week to seek an injunction that the judge granted. The church plans to appeal.
The church’s attorney said the church is facing $800,000 in fines for indoor services attended by about 700 people in a worship center that seats 1,900. Whether Pastor Mike McClure could be held in contempt of court is set for a hearing today.
It was pointed out on one call that a Russian couple living in San Francisco came down to San Jose to attend Calvary Chapel because it was the only church they could find that was open. When they checked in with their parents in Russia, they were told that the Russian churches were open. Closed in “free” America where religious freedom is enshrined in the First Amendment.
Notably, the Supreme Court’s New York decision has been recognized by Bay Area health officials who now recognize churches as “essential.” That’s a huge change since the March shutdown that failed to recognize churches as essential. That means churches can meet outside which was not allowed during the first shutdown.
Those calls, which took place last Wednesday and Thursday, were before the shutdowns were ordered. The attorneys noted that only in California and Ohio were churches closed.