Southern California’s South Bay Pentecostal Church has petitioned the United States Supreme Court to intervene and issue an emergency injunction against Governor Gavin Newsom’s shutdown of churches.The church’s attorneys are arguing that Newsom’s shutdown of religious worship in the state is a blatant violation of the First Amendment’s constitutional guarantee that citizens may freely exercise their religious faith.
So far, the South Bay United Pentecostal Church and its Senior Pastor, Bishop Arthur Hodges III, have not prevailed in their lawsuit before both San Diego’s federal district court and the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. In the 9th Circuit the church lost on emergency appeal, 2-1 before a three-judge panel. Judge Daniel Collins sided with the church, filing a powerful 15-page dissent that declared the church deserves the relief it seeks.
The South Bay United Pentecostal Church is asking to hold in-person worship services, fully subject to social distancing and other contagion-mitigation steps.
The church is represented by LiMandri & Jonna, doing pro bono work in Rancho Santa Fe, California, as the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, joined by the Chicago-based Thomas More Society. The attorneys filed an Emergency Application for Writ of Injunctive Relief on May 23, 2020, on behalf of South Bay United Pentecostal Church and Bishop Arthur Hodges III, in South Bay United Pentecostal Church, et al v. Gavin Newsom, et al.
Tom Brejcha, President and Chief Counsel for the Thomas More Society, explained that the lawsuit and the church’s petition for emergency relief have proved necessary in order that the rights of these and all Americans may be secured. “These most essential liberties and fundamental freedoms are prescribed at the very outset of our Bill of Rights. California’s four stage Reopening Plan permits manufacturing, warehousing, retail, offices, seated dining at restaurants, and schools to reopen, but bans places of worship from holding church services. On its face,” he said, “this plan is a blatant violation of the Free Exercise Clause of our First Amendment.”
South Bay United Pentecostal Church and Bishop Hodges argue that Governor Newsom and other state and local officials have denigrated churches by downgrading them into a lower category of “non-essential” activities, along with movie theaters, salons and gyms – ignoring their preferred status in our Bill of Rights. South Bay’s Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund attorneys, teamed with the Thomas More Society, originally filed a request for the church to be open for worship during the COVID-19 pandemic on May 11, 2020. Repulsed by a San Diego federal judge, they fast-tracked an emergency appeal up to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals where they lost again.