California governor Gavin Newsom was ordered to pay $1.35 million in a settlement following the Supreme Court’s rejection of Newsom’s restrictions on in-person religious worship during the coronavirus pandemic.
The settlement, filed with the U.S. District Court for the 9th Circuit last week, orders Newsom to cover the legal expense of Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal organization that fought restrictions on worship on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry.
California is now permanently barred from imposing restrictions on religious institutions that are not equally applied to other essential infrastructure, according to the terms of the settlement.
“Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID restrictions discriminated against churches while providing preferential treatment to many secular businesses and gatherings,” Liberty Counsel founder Matt Stover said in a statement last week. “The Supreme Court intervened multiple times to provide relief. Under the settlement, California may never again place discriminatory restrictions on churches and places of worship.”
In several cases involving the Harvest Rock Church and South Bay United Pentecostal Church, the Supreme Court rejected California’s restrictions on in-person worship as discriminatory.
“California . . . insists that religious worship is so different that it demands especially onerous regulation,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in his opinion for South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom in February.
Later in the opinion, Gorsuch wrote that “if Hollywood may host a studio audience or film a singing competition while not a single soul may enter California’s churches, synagogues, and mosques, something has gone seriously awry.”
Newsom is currently facing a recall effort fueled in part by frustration with California lockdown policies.