Seth Sandronsky / The Center Square
Faith leaders across California are hailing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week that sided with Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry and against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ban on indoor worship services during the pandemic.
Newsom’s restrictions prevent indoor worship services in most of the state while allowing most retail outlets to remain open with capacity limits.
“In that decision, the Supreme Court clearly ruled governments may not favor secular indoor activities, such as indoor retail, over worship,” Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco said in a statement. “The same restrictions must, at a minimum, be applied to both.”
Harvest Rock Church has multiple campuses in California, including in Pasadena, Los Angeles, Irvine and Corona and its Harvest International Ministries has 162 member churches throughout the state.
A week earlier, the Supreme Court, with newly arrived Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, relieved religious groups in New York of similar pandemic restrictions affecting Christian and Jewish indoor religious worshippers that Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo had imposed.
Other faith communities in California also praised the decisions.
Jacob Douglas is the director of Athletes in Action Northern California, a Christian ministry that serves California State University, Sacramento, University of California, Davis and the University of the Pacific.
“I firmly believe that it is never the role of the government to place restrictions on religious freedom or freedom of speech,” he told The Center Square, “even in the context of a global pandemic. Gov. Newsom grossly overstepped his bounds, and I believe violated constitutional freedoms of all Americans.”
On the other hand, Douglas sees another side of the pandemic prevention equation.
“However, as a Christian I believe it is my responsibility to promote the common good and do my part in ensuring care for public health. In that regard, I personally believe that churches should choose to implement safe practices such as physical distancing, limiting gathering size, pre-screening for COVID-19 symptoms and mask wearing.”
Rabbi Greg Wolfe of Congregation Bet Haverim in Davis, California, said despite the ruling, his congregation will continue to follow state guidelines.
“Our congregation’s COVID-19 response team is taking a very careful and considered approach to protect the health and well-being of our members,” Wolfe said. “Therefore, we will continue to hold our services on-line until the spread of the virus is much lower. We will continue to follow Gov. Newsom’s guidelines, and those of the county health department.”