Calif. church appeals governor's ban on Bible studies, in-person worship: 'Church more essential than ever'

Pastor Ché Ahn speaks at Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, California, 2019.
Pastor Ché Ahn speaks at Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, California, 2019. | Facebook/Harvest Rock Church

The Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry have appealed their case regarding Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ban on all in-person worship, including home Bible studies and fellowship with anyone who does not live in the home.

On behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministries, which is a nonprofit corporation with 162 member churches statewide and over 65,000 affiliates worldwide, the religious rights law group Liberty Counsel has filed a lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit challenges “both the total ban on in-person worship (including in private homes) in the counties on the ‘County Monitoring List,’ and the ban on singing and chanting in the remaining counties,” Liberty Counsel said in a statement.

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Harvest Rock Church also has many “Life Groups,” which are home Bible studies and fellowship groups. “These too are prohibited under Gov. Newsom’s July 6 (no singing and chanting) and July 13 (no worship) orders.”

“While he discriminates against churches, home Bible studies and fellowship meetings, the governor continues to encourage thousands of protestors to gather throughout the state," Liberty Counsel argued. "Like Gov. Newsom, Pasadena has allowed hundreds and thousands of protestors. Neither the Pasadena Public Health Department nor the Pasadena Prosecutor has attempted to stop the protests in which people are crowded together, many of them not wearing masks.”

On Aug. 12, Judge Jesus G. Bernal denied the church’s request for a preliminary injunction. The following day, the Pasadena prosecutor sent the church and its pastor, Ché Ahn, a letter demanding that all in-person worship services cease. The letter threatened daily criminal charges and fines to the pastor, the church, staff and parishioners, saying each criminal charge would be punishable by up to one year in prison.

“The Supreme Court has clearly stated that under the First Amendment, the state cannot prohibit people from attending church against their will,” Liberty Counsel founder and Chairman Mat Staver said.

“Yet, that is what Gov. Newsom has done. The church has been essential for 2,000 years, and the First Amendment recognizes that the free exercise of religion is essential. The church is now more essential than ever because there are so many hurting people, especially in California, where the governor has decimated the economy and hurt many people by his draconian restrictions.”

Pastor Ahn recently posted a video on Instagram with a message to the congregation: “If you do show up and get a ticket, Harvest Rock Church is going to underwrite that ticket; we’ll pay for your citation. We’re really doing a prophetic act here in obedience to what we believe the Holy Spirit is directing us. I’ve said this a number of times, I’m willing to go to jail for what I believe is my constitutional right and what I believe the Holy Spirit is asking me to do as your pastor.”

Harvest Rock Church asks that attendees abide by the church’s guidelines for safe attendance during the pandemic. 

The church asks those who are high risk and those who live with people who are high risk to stay home and watch online. Meanwhile, the church also encourages families with children and those who experience symptoms such as cough, fever, sore throat and difficulty breathing to watch online. 

Attendees are asked to wear a mask “when entering and exiting the auditorium” and practice social distancing “while entering, exiting and while on-site.”

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