The state of California has yet again been ordered to pay for the legal fees of churches for discriminatory regulations that amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As per a settlement secured Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom’s government will have to pay over $2 million to the Thomas More Society, which represented South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and a Bakersfield priest, Father Trevor Burffit, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
The state will be paying the conservative law firm $1.6 million for the South Bay case and $500,000 for the case involving Father Burffit.
The Free Beacon explains that the Newsom administration also agreed to prohibitions on restrictions of any religious gathering that exceed “the precautions imposed on other similar gatherings of similar risk,” according to the order from the US District Court of the Southern District of California.
Last month, a judge ordered the Newsom administration to pay millions in legal fees to the Liberty Counsel, who had represented Pasadena’s Harvest Rock Church. The judge also enjoined the state of California from subjecting houses of worship to pandemic rules under the 2020 COVID-19 State of Emergency declaration.
This month’s settlement with South Bay and Burfitt is yet another huge legal victory for the faith community and the First Amendment.
“The injunction in Burfitt was the first of its kind in the country, anticipating what the Supreme Court would later hold definitively, that houses of worship must receive the same treatment as the most favored secular comparators,” Thomas More Society attorney Christopher Ferrara said of the settlement.
“If favored businesses are allowed 100 percent occupancy during a pandemic, so must churches be allowed,” he emphasized.
The Newsom administration, for its part, told the Free Beacon that the ruling has provided “clarity” around how the state may impose pandemic restrictions, pointing to the “science” which a spokesperson said been guiding California’s re-opening.
“These settlements resolve the cases while providing clarity and certainty to the public around the public health standards applicable to places of worship following recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court,” the Newsom proxy said. “California has led the nation in safely reopening because our decisions are based on what the science and data tell us, and we will continue to do so as we look beyond the Blueprint.”
On Friday, however, Governor Newsom said he will not be lifting the state of emergency on June 15 despite previously indicating that this would be the case, so these injunctions could not come at a better time to protect the faith community’s right to equal treatment by his administration.
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