California Superior Court Judge Gregory Pulskamp delivered a stinging rebuke of Gov. Gavin Newsom late Thursday, ruling against “all Covid-19 restrictions that fail to treat houses of worship equal to the favored class of entities [i.e., ‘essential businesses'”].
The ruling came in the case of Father Trevor Burfitt v Gavin Newsom, a suit brought by attorneys for the Thomas More Society on behalf of the priest and multiple Catholic parishes that were barred from holding indoor masses even as big-box stores like Walmart, movie production houses, bus stations and numerous other businesses were exempted.
The judge singled out Newsom’s recently issued “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” and “Regional Stay at Home Order” as failing to satisfy the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom of worship and practice because they aren’t applied equally and in the least restrictive manner necessary to achieve an essential public interest.
“In this case, the restrictions are not ‘neutral’ and of ‘general applicability’ because they assign entities into disparate classifications, which results in religious activities being treated less favorably than comparable secular activities,” Pelskamp wrote.
“For example, the ‘Purple Tier’ of the ‘Blueprint for a Safer Economy,’ and the most recent ‘Regional Stay at Home Order,’ both impose a total ban on indoor religious services, while simultaneously permitting a wide range of secular indoor activities to varying degrees.
“Entities permitted to engage in indoor activities – also known as ‘essential businesses’ or ‘critical infrastructure’ – include big-box retail stores, grocery stores, home improvement stores, hotels, airports, train stations, bus stations, movie production houses, warehouses, factories, schools, and a lengthy list of additional businesses.
“It is important to note that almost all of the entities that are allowed to host indoor operations do not engage in activity that is constitutionally protected, whereas houses of worship do.”
Thomas More Senior Counsel Chris Ferrara lauded the decision, saying, “after more than nine months of tyranny in the name of ‘containing the spread’ of a virus they have failed to contain, the gubernatorial dictators presiding over draconian lockdowns are running out of runway on their claim that churches are somehow more dangerous viral vectors than any of the litany of ‘essential businesses’ crowded with customers that they allow to operate at 100% capacity.
“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.
“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.”
The original complaint filed on behalf of Burfitt can be read here.
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