The state of California agreed to a settlement in which it will pay more than $2 million in legal fees to attorneys who represented churches that were handed down significant restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, even as retail businesses experienced fewer regulations.
A federal judge approved the settlement after attorneys for a Pentecostal church in the San Diego area brought its lawsuit against the state to the U.S. Supreme Court three times and won.
As Fox News reported, the deal includes a permanent injunction following the High Court’s rulings that asserted houses of worship cannot have restrictions placed upon them that surpass those placed on retail businesses.
“If they’re gonna restrict Costco to 50%, then they can do the same thing to churches,” Attorney Paul Jonna of the Thomas More Society said. “But what they were doing before, as you may remember, is they were keeping those places open and they were shutting down churches — at least in California — completely.”
“The settlement terms in these cases track the United States Supreme Court’s seminal holding in South Bay v. Newsom, and the basic constitutional principle is simple and now cemented into permanent statewide injunctions,” said attorney @PaulJonna https://t.co/uiCKgAC9zH pic.twitter.com/V1iA56BxQ3
— @ThomasMoreSoc (@ThomasMoreSoc) June 3, 2021
In April, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced the state would “fully” reopen its economy by June 15, provided key criteria were met in the fight against the coronavirus, particularly if vaccine supply is sufficient for residents who are 16-years-old or older, and if hospitalization rates remain stable and low.
Liberty Counsel, a Christian litigation firm focused on religious liberty issues, has represented some California churches in their challenges to Newsom’s restrictions.
“All churches and places of worship now have the protection of the statewide permanent injunction,” Liberty Counsel said in a statement Wednesday. “Many of these cases will also have to be compensated by the state and/or local city or county.”
The firm also observed that “the victory against Governor Newsom is also being filed in pending church cases across the nation,” including in Maine, where Gov. Janet Mills (D) permitted unrestricted gatherings of business and secular organizations, but still required severe restrictions on churches, including a limit of 50 people, regardless of size of the building.
“The dominoes are falling, and churches are being freed from dictatorial and unconstitutional restrictions,” said Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel chairman. “The Supreme Court has intervened multiple times to provide relief. As a result, there will be more restrictions lifted and charges dropped for churches in the near future.”