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Federal court blocks California church’s bid for in-person worship on Christmas

Andrew Trunsky, DCNF

A federal appeals court has denied a California church’s bid to hold in-person services for Christmas.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit declined to lift California’s coronavirus restrictions for the Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, California in the Wednesday ruling. Under the restrictions issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom, churches in the state are not allowed to hold in-person services amid the pandemic.

The ruling was a 2-1 decision, with Barack Obama appointee Morgan Christen and Bill Clinton appointee Johnnie Rawlinson in the majority. Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan, partially concurred and partially dissented, noting that “it is not the church’s fault that it finds itself in this predicament.

While he “[did] not object to the panel’s determination that more time is needed to evaluate the merits” of the church’s motion, O’Scannlain wrote, “we should not deprive the church of any hope of relief during the period of time it takes our court to do so.”

“Even if we need more time to consider the pending motion in full, we should have granted the church at least the temporary relief it needs to ensure that its members can exercise freely the fundamental right to practice their Christian religion on one of the most sacred Christian days of the year,” he added.

The ruling was the second time this week that the Harvest Rock Church’s efforts to host in-person services over Christmas were denied. U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal denied the church’s earlier request Monday.

The rulings are unlike those issued by the Supreme Court, which has sided with religious institutions in similar cases in recent days. The court last Tuesday ruled in favor of a Colorado church over capacity limits to in-person worshippers and ordered Colorado reexamine its restrictions regarding indoor religious services.

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