April 17, 2020—Today, the Center for American Liberty in coordination with the Dhillon Law Group and on behalf of clients in Merced County, sent the Merced County Board of Supervisors a letter demanding the immediate rescission of the County’s April 8, 2020 Orderbanning religious services as “non-essential.” The Order in question prohibits residents from leaving their homes for any reason other than those expressly classified as “essential.”
The Order expressly includes drycleaners, restaurants, laundromats, and hardware stores as “essential.” Interestingly, the order also includes “newspapers, television, radio, and other media services” as “essential,” while not including houses of worship.
“It is beyond the pale that Merced County would determine that the media is more “essential” to residents than their clergy and other spiritual leaders,” said Harmeet Dhillon, Chief Executive Officer of the Center for American Liberty. This time of year, especially, there are numerous religious holidays in many faiths represented in Merced County. It is unconstitutional for the County to treat churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, gurdwaras, and other houses of worship as second-class institutions.”
“Provided that congregants adhere to social distancing guidelines, there is no reason for a church to be closed while a marijuana dispensary is allowed to be open,” explained Dhillon.
The letter comes just days after United States Attorney General William P. Barr issued a statementcondemning restrictions on houses of worship that are not applied “evenhandedly” to all businesses.
“AG Barr’s statement was clear, states cannot have two sets of restrictions—those that apply to churches and the more relaxed standards that apply to other entities,” said Dhillon. “In light of the Attorney General’s statement, we hope that Merced County Supervisors will reverse course.”
On Monday, the Center for American Liberty filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Gov. Newsom, Attorney General Becerra, and county supervisors in San Bernardino and Riverside counties for banning religious services. Learn more about Gish v. Newsom here.