Even when some businesses were permitted to reopen, the state has kept places of worship to limited capacity to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s one of many restrictions aimed at slowing the virus. A law firm called the Thomas More Society is suing Governor Gavin Newsom on behalf of a catholic priest named Trevor Burfitt, because Burfitt says coronavirus restrictions on places of worship violate the first amendment right to religious freedom. The lawsuit asks to lift guidelines from the state and four counties, including Kern. The case went to the Kern County Superior Court, and its first hearing was this morning.
“The restrictions are overly long, They’ve gone on far too long,” said Chris Ferrara, Special Counsel for the Thomas More Society. “So the time has come to put an end to the statewide lockdown that is now being conducted under what they call the blueprint to a safer economy.”
That’s Governor Newsom’s pandemic plan. It lays out restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. That’s why places of worship can only hold 100 worshippers at a time in Kern county as it remains in the red tier. But Kern may move back to the more restrictive purple tier next week.
“And in that tier all churches are 100 percent closed,” said Ferrara. “We argue that that’s a ridiculous restriction.”
Ferrara says masks and social distancing can be practical in religious services, but the pandemic isn’t severe enough to make a lockdown necessary anymore if people with symptoms stay home.
“We’re not talking any longer talking about hospitalizations that exceed the capacity of hospitals, the amount of deaths that is alarmingly high so we have to take precautions around the state,” said Ferrara. “The evidence of asymptomatic transmission is slim to none as we show in our papers.”
Not everyone agrees with that. Dr. Anthony Fauci said asymptomatic carriers may be one of the main causes of rising case rates. A study by Oxford University says as many as 40% of transmissions come from people who don’t show symptoms.
“Disease is a fact of life, death is a fact of life,” said Ferrara. “I’m not belittling death, but we have to approach death in a proportionate way when you’re dealing with public policy.”
No action was taken in today’s hearing, but the case will be back in court on Dec. 10. That’s when a judge will decide whether to place a temporary hold on coronavirus restrictions in places of worship.