Pasadena’s Harvest Rock Church held an indoor church Sunday, two days after winning a court victory by the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted a partial injunction against California’s coronavirus ban on indoor worship services.
“This is not just our First Amendment rights, but our biblical mandate (to worship in person),” Senior Pastor Che Ahn told the Sunday congregation.
“You could (worship) virtually, I guess, but it’s not relational,
it is not personal. … We think you are adults, you are responsible. We believe in freedom. We wouldn’t sue the governor if we didn’t believe in freedom.
In a 6-3 vote on Friday night, the Supreme Court cited the Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion and ruled that “regulations like these violate the First Amendment unless the state can show that they are the least restrictive means of attaining a compelling government interest. . “
Although Ahn celebrated as if the church had achieved an all-out victory, that was not it. The ruling authorized state restrictions on crowd size – 25% of capacity – with singing and singing bans remaining in place.
The church met illegally inside when sanitary order was in place. It is not known whether they will comply with the decision limiting the crowd to 25% of capacity.
Ahn said Harvest Rock is not done with its legal challenges and will challenge the singing ban. He mentioned that singing was still legal in other settings, including on Hollywood movie and TV sets.
“Fifty percent of our worship is singing, and we’ll sing it no matter what,” Ahn said.
The parish priest also encouraged parishioners to sign a recall petition against Governor Gavin Newsom.
In accordance with the court ruling, Newsom’s office issued a revised public health order for indoor religious services on Saturday.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that federal courts owe “great deference” to public health policy makers, but said deference has its limits.
“The state’s current determination – that the maximum number of adherents who can safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero – seems to reflect not expertise or discretion, but rather an insufficient appreciation or consideration of interests at stake, ”Roberts wrote.
The decision did not overturn the 25% capacity restriction nor a ban on singing and chanting.
“The state has concluded, for example, that singing indoors poses an increased risk of transmission of Covid-19,” Roberts wrote. “I see no basis in this case for going beyond this aspect of the state’s public health framework.”
The ruling reflected the court’s current ideological split with six Conservative judges in favor of the partial injunction and the three dissenting Liberals.
“The judges of this court are not scientists”, associate judge Elena Kagan wrote in disagreement with the majority decision. “We don’t know much about public health policy either. Yet today the court is shifting expert judgments on how to respond to a raging pandemic. “
The decision was the latest in a series of high-profile emergency decisions requests to the country’s highest court for advice on whether health orders aimed at containing COVID-19 apply to churches and other places of worship.
Harvest Rock urged parishioners planning to attend in person on Sunday and in the future to follow health protocols on social distancing and sanitation.