California Governor Lifts Capacity Restrictions on Churches


SAN FRANCISCO, CA – In response to Liberty Counsel’s request for an emergency injunction pending appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, Governor Gavin Newsom wrote yesterday that “mandatory limits on attendance are no longer imposed on houses of worship.” That means that after five reprimands from the U.S. Supreme Court, Gov. Newsom decided to make the percentage-capacity restrictions on houses of worship in all Tiers voluntary.

California’s COVID-19 guidance has been revised and reads, “In response to recent judicial rulings, effective immediately, location and capacity limits on places of worship are not mandatory but are strongly recommended. The linked guidance is in the process of being updated. All other restrictions in the guidance remain in place.”

Liberty Counsel represents Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor twice. This case is still pending at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals requesting that the district court ruling be reversed.  Unless and until there is a judicial declaration that Governor Newsom has acted unconstitutionally, there is nothing keeping him from changing his mind again, whether in this crisis or any future crisis.

Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted 5-4 an emergency injunction pending appeal, thus finding that California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions on home Bible study and worship violate the First Amendment. The High Court referred to Harvest Rock Church v. Newsom when it wrote: “This is the fifth time the Court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise” (emphasis added).

Last February, the Supreme Court enjoined California from enforcing the total ban on worship in Tier 1 of the “Blueprint” pending disposition of the case at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and a petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court. Gov. Newsom then imposed a 25 percent building capacity limit in Tier 1. However, though the total ban on worship in Tier 1 and 100 and 200 person limits in Tiers 2 and 3 have been enjoined pending appeal, Tiers 1-4 continue to discriminate against churches, as does the singing and chanting ban.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “After five reprimands from the U.S. Supreme Court, Governor Gavin Newsom has finally dropped his draconian restrictions on churches. While we are happy that all churches and houses of worship no longer have any restrictions, Liberty Counsel will continue our case in the Ninth Circuit in order to make sure this tyranny and abuse never happens again.”

Used with the permission of Liberty Counsel.

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.