Center for American Liberty Sues Gov. Newsom over Church Ban

April 13, 2020—The Center for American Liberty, in coordination with the Dhillon Law Group, filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Governor Gavin Newsom, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and named county officials, in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, for criminalizing the free exercise of religion.

The suit comes days after the Center for American Liberty threatened County Supervisors with such a lawsuit. In response, both San Bernardino County and Riverside Counties made limited accommodations for practicing Christians on Easter weekend only.

Today’s suit, Gish v. Newsom, demands religious liberty beyond Easter Sunday. Among clients represented is Rev. James Moffatt, a pastor in Riverside County who was fined $1,000 for holding a Palm Sunday service.

“Criminalizing individual participation at a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other house of worship clearly violates the First Amendment,” said Harmeet K. Dhillon, Chief Executive Officer for the Center for American Liberty. “The state and localities have granted sweeping exceptions to the shutdown orders for favored businesses and professions, while specifically targeting people of faith and decreeing to religious institutions that it is ‘good enough’ that they be allowed to offer streaming video services. The state does not get to dictate the method of worship to the faithful.”

“This past weekend both San Bernardino County and Riverside County allowed practicing Christians to congregate, in varying capacities, outside their homes to celebrate Easter,” said Dhillon. “While giving in to criticism and respecting Christians’ right to religious liberty on Easter Sunday was undeniably the right decision by County Supervisors, the government may not selectively license religious liberty to Christians on Easter Sunday.”

“California is a diverse state with many religions represented. The Constitution demands that all must be afforded the ability to practice their faith according to the dictates of conscience and be treated no less favorably than any other organization or person subject to the current shutdown orders. Where government picks and chooses who gets exemptions and who doesn’t, according to entirely arbitrary and opaque criteria, this offends the Constitution and causes irreparable harm. Not every person of faith has access in California to a broadband connection, a computer, and the technical skills to stream a service. Not every faith organization has the ability to produce high-tech services – nor should they be required to. If a Californian is able to go to Costco or the local marijuana shop or liquor store and buy goods in a responsible, socially distanced manner, then he or she must be allowed to practice their faith using the same precautions,” concluded Dhillon.


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