The state of California will be paying more than $2 million in legal fees after discriminating against churches with its pandemic closure orders.
The latest settlements in the ongoing legal battles against Gov. Gavin Newsom involve a federal lawsuit brought by South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and Father Trevor Burfitt, a Catholic priest in Bakersfield. Lawyers for the Thomas More Society, a conservative public interest law firm, will receive $1.6 million in legal fees in the South Bay case and $550,000 in the Burfitt case.
And as CBN News reported in May, a California District Court had approved a different legal settlement, ordering Newsom to stop violating the First Amendment rights of churches like Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry. That settlement made it clear that Newsom is barred from shutting down churches in the future too.
Liberty Counsel fought for the rights of Harvest and churches across the state. Under that settlement, Newsom was ordered to pay Liberty Counsel $1,350,000 to reimburse attorney’s fees and costs.
The U.S. Supreme Court had already ruled that Newsom was treating houses of worship as second-class institutions with harsh penalties and restrictions that didn’t match the restrictions he placed on “essential” businesses.
Liberty Counsel explains the settlement means, “Churches and places of worship may never again have discriminatory restrictions placed on them that are not equally applied to a long list of ‘critical infrastructure’ or ‘essential services’ as outlined in several Supreme Court precedents cited in the settlement agreement.”
Liberty Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said holding California accountable will have a big impact on churches that have been experiencing similar restrictions and fines across California and other states.
“The dominoes are falling, and churches are being freed from dictatorial and unconstitutional restrictions. The Supreme Court has intervened multiple times to provide relief. As a result, there will be more restrictions lifted and charges dropped for churches in the near future,” Staver said.
A number of churches in California have faced huge fines which will now have to cease after these legal victories for religious freedom. For example, Calvary Chapel San Jose, led by Senior Pastor Mike McMclure, was fined more than $3 million.
In addition, North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara had moved services outdoors after being fined $5,000 for every indoor service. Grace Community Church in Los Angeles County and Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks had also incurred fines.