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Supreme Court strikes down California church closures

Embattled California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday was forced to revise guidelines for indoor church services after the U.S. Supreme Court slapped down his ban on indoor worship.

The new state guidelines limit attendance at indoor services in areas with widespread or substantial virus spread to 25 percent of a building’s capacity. Indoor services in areas with moderate to minimum spread are limited to 50 percent capacity.

“We will continue to enforce the restrictions the Supreme Court left in place and, after reviewing the decision, we will issue revised guidelines for worship services to continue to protect the lives of Californians,” the governor’s press secretary said in a statement.

The justices were acting on emergency requests to halt the restrictions from South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, which has more than 160 churches across the state.

“You can go to your house of worship, as of now! You can go back to church, we’re excited about that,” Pastor Art Hodges of the South Bay United Pentecostal Church told KNSD-TV.

The church has defied state orders since last May by holding service indoors while following COVID-19 safety protocols, Hodges said. He was thankful to hold services on Sunday “without any pressure or threat or concern” and added that the 25 percent attendance limit will make him add two or three more services to accommodate church members.

On Instagram, Harvest Rock’s ministry in downtown Los Angeles announced it would hold an in-person service Saturday evening. “Bring the kiddos! We’d love to see the whole family for service tonight!” the announcement said, followed by the hashtag #inpersonservice.

The court left singing restrictions in place.

The church said in a statement that it will continue to petition for the right to sing during indoor services, arguing the state is unfairly allowing the entertainment industry to film a singing competition but not during indoor worship. “While it is one thing to lockdown based on data, it is an entirely different motive to allow some groups a right that is denied to others.” the statement said.

As of Sunday, Recall Gavin 2020 – one of two committees organizing the recall effort of Newsome – says more than 1.4 million signatures out of the necessary 1,495,709 have been collected.

The campaign will need to gather signatures above the required number to compensate for the signatures that will inevitably be invalidated. Their deadline is March 17. If passed.

Democrat Gray Davis is the only Governor that has been successfully removed from office in a recall effort in 2003.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice