April 17, 2020—As a result of the Center for American Liberty’s lawsuit and request for a temporary restraining order, drive-in religious services are now permitted in California during the COVID crisis. This policy change, reflected in announcements from the two counties sued in our lawsuit, comes hours after Governor Newsom and Attorney General Becerra filed their brief in response to our TRO filed on Tuesday. In their response, Governor Newsome and AG Becerra explain that because cars are “technology,” drive-in church services are permitted under the state’s shelter-in-place rule.
Subsequently, Riverside County released its final amended Order which references the Governor and Attorney General’s opposition brief to our TRO. The Order states—“the State confirmed that in-person services are prohibited but clarified that “…drive-in worship services are permitted under the existing Executive Order, which expressly allows ‘faith based services that are provided through…other technology.”
San Bernardino County’s press release states, “The state has declared that drive-in worship services are allowed ‘as long as the individuals engaged in such services abide by physical distancing guidelines and refrain from direct and indirect physical touching of others.”
“This is heartening progress for our clients, and all Californians” said Harmeet K. Dhillon, Chief Executive Officer of the Center for American Liberty. “But while this is a step in the right direction, it is still not enough.”
“The state is still holding houses of worship to a different standard,” explained Dhillon. “AG Barr’s statement on Tuesday was clear, states cannot have two sets of restrictions—those that apply to churches and the more relaxed standards that apply to other entities. The State’s orders still do not define worship as an essential activity that permits travel in California, even while at the same time the state is now saying drive-in worship is permissible. The orders are riddled with contradictory and confusing language.”
“Even after these policy changes, houses of worship are still very limited in their permissible activities. Many of these activities provide immeasurable societal good, be it delivering food to the elderly, hosting addiction support groups, providing spiritual comfort and counseling for Californians in crisis, and so many other essential services.” explained Dhillon.
On Tuesday, United States Attorney General William P. Barr issued a statementcondemning restrictions on houses of worship that are not applied “evenhandedly” to all businesses.
“We intend to pursue this case until all Californians are restored the full free exercise of religion guaranteed to all Americans under the Constitution,” concluded Dhillon.
For more information about this case, please visit https://libertycenter.org/pf/gish-v-newsom/