San Diego strip clubs reopen, but churches ordered to remain closed

Demonstrators holding signs demanding their church to reopen, protest during a rally to re-open California and against extending Stay-At-Home directives on May 1, 2020, in San Diego, California.
Demonstrators holding signs demanding their church to reopen, protest during a rally to re-open California and against extending Stay-At-Home directives on May 1, 2020, in San Diego, California. | Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images

A California judge ordered San Diego to reopen strip clubs while the county carries on with its crackdown on churches and restrictions on in-person learning at schools.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil ordered California to end any actions that prevent the clubs from “being allowed to provide live adult entertainment,” according to The Washington Free Beacon, which noted that the decision is not final as a full hearing will be held at the end of the month.

Two adult clubs filed a lawsuit in October, alleging that the county’s public health orders violated the businesses’ constitutional rights of due process and equal protection under the law, according to the  Los Angeles Times.

This week, San Diego moved back to the purple tier of the state's COVID-19 lockdown, requiring indoor restaurants to move to outdoor service only, limiting the capacity of retail businesses, and restricting in-person classes at schools.

Many California churches have been fighting legal battles with authorities for months to reopen in-person services.

Paul Jonna, special counsel for the conservative legal group Thomas More Society, said the churches are also entitled to constitutional protections if strip clubs are being protected.

“If you’re going to accept that argument that dancing nude is protected speech that’s so significant that it overcomes the government’s interest in regulating its citizens with COVID-19 orders, then obviously the divine worship of God, which is expressly mentioned in the First Amendment, should be held to a higher standard,” Jonna told the Beacon.

Jonna called the county’s decision “absurd” and shows double standards.

“A judge who understands the Constitution will recognize the absurdity of the current state of the law. I think it’s a good sign that judges are starting to question whether the government has a legitimate interest in regulating any business or industry at this point.”

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond seemed to agree, stating in a tweet on Tuesday: “If we’ve learned anything over the past seven months, it’s that this shotgun approach of closing all businesses doesn’t work. Instead, we need to look at where people are getting sick and approach it with a scalpel. Shutting down an entire industry goes too far.”

In an earlier statement, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said: “There is no dispute that the government has a compelling interest in restricting assemblies during times of pandemic, but several states, including Minnesota, California and Nevada, have pursued policies that are inconsistent, incoherent and not neutral toward religious gatherings as opposed to non-religious gatherings.”

Pastor Mike McClure of Calvary Chapel in San Jose, Santa Clara County, has faced fines of at least $350,000 and a lawsuit for holding indoor services since May 31 in violation of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions on churches.

McClure’s congregation was one of the more than 1,000 churches across California that decided to regather for indoor services at the end of May.

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