The churches of Los Angeles county are allowed to hold worship services under a new stay-at-home order that otherwise prohibits all gatherings.
The new order by the Department of Health went into effect on Monday, advising Los Angeles residents to stay at home as much as possible and not meet with anyone outside one’s household over the next three weeks. While all private and public gatherings are banned, the order exempts “faith based services and protests, which are constitutionally protected rights.”
The exemption comes because of a recent Supreme Court decision temporarily blocking restrictions on churches, Pacific Justice Institute President and founder Brad Dacus told The Christian Post.
“According to the Supreme Court, the government cannot be more restrictive on houses of worship than they are on other secular entities including essential businesses,” he explained. “What makes this particularly liberating for churches is that some of these essential businesses like airlines are not invoking any limitations like they did before the pandemic. If airports are allowed to fill their businesses with as many people as needed who want to fly, that same standard applies to churches and synagogues.”
Faith-based services must still be held outdoors under COVID-19 guidelines but there is no limit on attendance as long as attendees are socially distancing and wearing masks.
Under the temporary county order, essential retail businesses must restrict occupancy to 35% and nonessential retail businesses must restrict occupancy to 20%. Museums can operate at 50% capacity and fitness centers are allowed to operate outdoors at 50% capacity.
The county sheriff’s office has announced it will not enforce compliance.
Los Angeles county has been seeing a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases. Total cases are currently at 414,185 with 7,740 deaths.
The county has been in legal battles with churches that have reopened for indoor worship services, including Grace Community Church, led by Pastor John MacArthur, and Calvary Chapel San Jose. While Los Angeles has been attempting to shut down the indoor services through fines and threatening jail time, Dacus contended that the recent high court decision in favor of houses of worship makes further attempts to close churches futile.
“What compelled them is looking at the writing on the wall of where their policy was going to end up,” he said. “This is a major game changer. Los Angeles County is not a county known for being friendly to religious freedom.”
Scientific research shows that churches do well at taking precautions about the virus, Dacus said. They usually show higher standards of care to protect visitors from COVID-19 transmission than secular businesses do.
He believes the Supreme Court ruling makes it likely that Americans will see a wave of church reopenings across the country. The ruling cited broad legal principles which make it likely that churches which sue to reopen will succeed, he said, adding that Democratic governors who have stringently opposed church reopenings likely no longer have legal authority for their orders.
“We are willing to file suit on behalf of any church in any state in the country against any government without charge,” Dacus said.
At this point, the conflict between religious freedom and government COVID-19 restrictions has been decisively decided in favor of religious freedom, he stressed. Future cases will likely support the rights of believers.
“We have the wind at our back, we have the Supreme Court now articulating the rights of churches,” he said. “We are optimistic that we will see things turn around in communities and states across the country moving forward.”