Federal Judge in California Flouts Catholic Diocese, Dares SCOTUS to Reverse Him
On December 3, hours after the Court GVR’d Harvest Rock, the Governor of California implemented a new framework that would permit the complete prohibition on indoor worship. Harvest Rock moved for emergency relief in the District Court. The Court declined to rule right away. In the interim, Harvest Rock Church asked the Supreme Court to intervene, but that relief was not granted. I’ve been told that there is apparently an unwritten rule: following a GVR, the Court will not rule on a motion till the lower court had a chance to decide.
On December 21, the District Court upheld the Governor’s order. Judge Bernal’s opinion offers a very, very strained reading of Diocese, and still follows Chief Justice Roberts’s comparator approach from South Bay.
First, the Court finds a way to distinguish California’s order from those set aside in New York and Nevada:
The Blueprint offers something the New York and Nevada Orders did not: the ability to legally congregate in unlimited numbers for worship—so long as that worship occurs outside.
I don’t find Judge Bernal’s distinction persuasive because of one important factor: the elements. What happens if it is cold outside? Or raining? Or snowing? Are people really expected to huddle in the elements so they can worship in large numbers? What about the need to use various religious texts that would get wet outside? Or the use of instruments? Or anything else that would be impossible in the elements? When the weather outside is frightful, California’s policy amounts to a complete prohibition on worship–indoors or outdoors. And what about noise? Can people worship in peace and contemplation with cars driving down the street? Or people walking through their procession? What if a church does not even h
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