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Church Culture Politics

L.A. Court Loosens Some COVID-19 Restrictions on Indoor Worship Services, Not Others

A California federal appeals court has ruled against the state placing specific attendance number limits on indoor worship services for churches, but left other restrictions in place. The ruling comes in response to a challenge brought by Harvest Rock Church.

But the three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the ban on indoor services in areas under stay-at-home orders or in the state’s strictest tier 1 areas can continue, the Orange County Register reported.

The state also can continue to restrict worship based on a percentage of legal capacity as set by fire codes and limit singing and chanting even in areas with lower infection rates, the ruling said.

Attorney Matt Staver of The Liberty Counsel, which is representing Harvest Rock, said they plan to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

“This will not stand,” Staver wrote. “The High Court has already issued a clear road map that leads to the ultimate conclusion that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ban of worship is unconstitutional.”

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in November against occupancy restrictions for religious services in the state of New York, saying they violated religious freedom and singled out houses of worship for “especially harsh treatment.”

Harvest Rock is a Pentecostal church with four campuses in California, including in downtown Los Angeles, Corona, Santa Ana, and Pasadena. The church had filed the legal challenge asking the court to overturn a December ruling in favor of the state’s restrictions, the Los Angeles Times reported, and has been meeting in person in spite of the limitations.

In August of 2020, the City of Pasadena, where the main campus is located, threatened fines and jail time for staff and church members for not complying with the city’s health restrictions, including attendance and social distancing limitations.

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.