California district judge refuses to lift COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship – despite recent SCOTUS rulings

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by Karen Faulkner, Worthy News Correspondent

(Worthy News) – Despite US Supreme Court decisions to strike down COVID-19 worship service restrictions in two recent cases, a federal judge again refused to lift worship restrictions in a case brought by California’s South Bay United Pentecostal Church, the Christian Post reports.

US District Court Judge Cynthia Bashant denied the church’s petition for a second time Monday, even after an appeals court ordered her to rehear the case in light of the two new SCOTUS rulings.

Based in Chula Vista, the South Bay church has engaged in protracted legal action against California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s limitations on in-person worship. According to state regulations, houses of worship may hold indoor services of up to 25% of their building’s capacity, to a maximum of 100 people: the South Bay church views these restrictions as a violation of their First Amendment right to freedom of worship, the Christian Post reports.

South Bay brought their complaint before Judge Bashant some eight weeks ago, and she denied their petition. The church accordingly took their case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, the Christian Post reports. The Appeals court did not deny the petition but instead sent the case back down to the District Court – ordering Bashant to rehear it in light of the SCOTUS decisions in Harvest Rock Church, Inc. v. Newsom and Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo.

Again refusing to lift the pertinent restrictions on worship, Bashant said it was necessary to balance “religious liberty and public health” in the midst of “a rapidly evolving – and escalating – pandemic,” the Christian Post said. Bashant agreed that “not being able (to) congregate indoors imposes a burden on Plaintiffs’ religion,” but explained that “the burden is a temporary one, with widespread vaccination close in sight.”

“The Court concludes that it serves the public interest to continue to protect the population as a whole, in this dire phase of the pandemic,” Bashant added.

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