As California Goes Into New Lockdown Mode, Churches are Exempt – Sort of…
A new lockdown order went into effect Sunday night at 11:59 p.m. for the vast majority of the state of California, affecting nearly 33 million people. The shutdown bans private and public gatherings, shutters all dine-in restaurants, prohibits multiple households from meeting, caps retail stores at 20% capacity, closes hair and nail salons, playgrounds, zoos, museums, etc, bans all non-essential travel, bans the use of staying in hotels for leisure, and a host of other restrictions. It is set to last three weeks, well past Christmas.
Despite the restrictions, the sheriff’s office has already openly stated that they will not enforce compliance.
Unlike previous lockdowns and shutdowns, however, churches are allowed to remain open. The dispensation does not come from the state of California and Governor Gavin Newsom’s newfound benevolence, but rather after the Supreme Court ruled on November 25th to block restrictions on houses of worship being allowed to gather. In a 5-4 Ruling that surely had the blood boiling of California governmental rulers, the Supreme Court said:
Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.
While it was a nice win, it has its limits. Just because Churches are allowed to exempt from this lockdown, it does not mean that they have the freedom to do as they please. Indoor Church services are still banned. Outdoor services must be outside, with proper signage in place, names and contact information for attendees must be recorded for tracing purposes later, members must be socially distanced and wear masks at all times.
While the Sheriff’s office will not enforce any heavy-handed approaches, they’re not the only game in town. Los Angeles County workers have been making the rounds of churches, giving warnings and handing out fines to churches not complying with the aforementioned restrictions still in place.