Governor Newsom's administration has officially responded to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan order, continuing to defend the state's guidelines which now essentially prohibit churches to hold indoor services in most of California.
Despite Newsom's orders, many churches across the state are going against the state guidelines and holding indoor services. And Los Angeles County is allowing indoor services based on U.S. Supreme Court rulings in other states. Churches can also hold outdoor services.
In the most recent battle the Center for American Liberty and Dhillon Law Group on behalf of churches in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties in the case Gish vs. Newsom sought immediate relief by filing an emergency application for a writ of injunction on January 7. Kagan order Newsom to respond by Wednesday and his administration did so, defending the state guidelines in an opposition brief which can be found here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/20/20A120/166175/20210113164959859_Final%20Gish%20Opp.pdf
In response to the opposition brief the Center for American Liberty stated: “The emergency application for a writ of injunction comes after federal courts, for weeks, have ignored clear directives from the Supreme Court forbidding the disparate treatment of religious organizations through COVID-19 restrictions.”
But in its opposition brief, the Newsom administration states that's not the case. The brief says the state isn't violating the Free Exercise clause which prohibits action that “discriminates against some or all religious beliefs or regulates or prohibits conduct because it is undertaken for religious reasons.”
The brief says the plaintiffs' argument is the state is treating “houses of worship with a harsher hand than secular businesses.”
But the state's brief says this isn't true, stating “the State’s restrictions on religious gatherings are the same or more permissive than restrictions” on other entities.
When it comes to indoor services the Newsom Administration brief states: “Indoor 'congregate' activities, in which many people gather together in close proximity for extended periods of time, pose an especially great risk of transmission because of the combination of the number of people, the nature of the activity, and the location.
“The risk is particularly high when congregate activities involve singing, loud speaking, or chanting, especially when they take place in buildings with limited ventilation.”
The Newsom administration's brief states vaccines won't be available to all the general public until the late spring or early summer and “until these vaccines are widely distributed, in order to effectively slow the spread of COVID-19, the types of gatherings and human interactions that allow for transmission of the virus must be limited. “
The Center for American Liberty's reply brief though states the need for injunctive relief is “dire. Even worse, in its opposition the State falsely represented to the Court that Applicants never challenged the applicable executive order on constitutional grounds.”
“For nearly 10 months, the State of California has forced faithful Americans to choose between obedience to God and obedience to Gavin, by forcing them to forsake religious gatherings,” said Mark Trammell, Executive Director and General Counsel of the Center for American Liberty. “We are optimistic that the U.S. Supreme Court will afford Californians the same relief it correctly afforded New Yorkers by enjoining Governor Newsom’s unconstitutional and discriminatory executive order.”
The Gish vs. Newsom case is currently on appeal at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Center for American Liberty stated all plaintiffs in the case want to participate in indoor services that employ social distancing and sanitization guidelines.