California backs down, allows drive-in church services following lawsuit
April 21, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – California will no longer forbid worshippers from attending drive-in church services following a lawsuit against the crackdown.
COVID-19 lockdown orders have forced the suspension of many public gatherings and activities across the country, including religious services, for fear of spreading the virus. In response, some churches have taken to congregating in church parking lots, where they listen to sermons from inside their cars.
Yet authorities in some jurisdictions have forbidden even that, prompting lawsuits and political pushback. One suit, brought by the Center for American Liberty in California, prompted Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra to back down, Fox 26 reported.
The state will now permit drive-in church services, provided worshippers observe “social distancing” while doing so – which would presumably be a moot point, as every attendee remains inside his or her own car.
Among those stepping in to defend religious exercise was the U.S. Department of Justice, which has issued a court filing siding with drive-in worshippers in Mississippi.
“Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers,” U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. “Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity.”
“Religion and religious worship continue to be central to the lives of millions of Americans. This is true more so than ever during this difficult time,” Barr continued. “The United States Department of Justice will continue to ensure that religious freedom remains protected if any state or local government, in their response to COVID-19, singles out, targets, or discriminates against any house of worship for special restrictions."
Throughout California, local authorities have ticketed pro-lifers for standing outside abortion centers, encouraged residents to report their neighbors for violating stay-at-home orders, and even forbidden singing or wind instruments in livestreamed church services.