Some California pastors are fed up with California Gov. Gavin Newsom's executive order prohibiting indoor worship services, a measure that's supposed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Newsom enforced harsh restrictions this year, including banning all in-person worship gatherings, at-home Bible studies, and singing together.
Many church leaders say Newsom's orders are unconstitutional and violate their right to religious freedom.
Pastor Sam Rodriguez with New Season Worship in Sacramento said, "It's a serious virus taking many lives. With that being said, you can't discriminate. You can keep liquor stores, cannabis shops open while deeming that churches are not essential. Getting high and getting drunk is essential, but coming together and worshiping is not essential? Absolutely absurd."
The pastor told KCRA News that his church doors will remain open while congregants observe safety procedures such as mask-wearing, temperature checks, and social distancing.
"I'm not that kind of pastor that's out there going like, 'Hey, let's go in and gather. No mask. C'mon, let's do this.' No! I find that to be irresponsible," Rodriguez said. "There's a practical, pragmatic, middle-of-the-road solution, which is let's apply every CDC recommendation, but don't shut me down if you're not going to shut other things down. It's just not right. It's discrimination."
"We get calls about domestic abuse, child abuse, about addiction now that was not there before in certain families," he added. "Churches are essential. Locking them down is producing so many long-term negative consequences."
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But Newsom's order could face legal challenges following last week's Supreme Court ruling that New York's tight restrictions on attendance at religious services "strike at the very heart of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty."
In a 5-to-4 ruling the justices declared "even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has indicated on multiple occasions that secular activities are "essential" but religious activities are not.
Moreover, religious leaders in California believe they can host in-person worship services safely while abiding by the COVID-related health protocols and guidelines.
Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi, CA, challenged Newsom's restrictions, and their attorney, Dean Broyles said the New York ruling has set a precedent - encouraging other churches to reconsider their stance on in-person worshipping.
"You're going to see more and more churches defying the (governor's) order," Broyles said.
Cross Culture Christian Center was locked out of their building by the landlord because they continued to worship together. Pastor Jon Duncan told CBN News, “Because we were locked out of our leased church building by the unconstitutional state and county orders and the oppressive conduct of our landlord, we have struggled during the COVID-19 virus to keep in close contact and fellowship. By God’s favor and grace, we have persevered and look forward to obtaining justice and worshipping again in person very soon.”
And Greg Fairrington, pastor of Destiny Christian Church in Rocklin, California began last Sunday's indoor worship service by shouting words of praise to his congregation.
"The Supreme Court of the United States of America - yeah! We have a biblical mandate and First Amendment rights!"
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story inaccurately attributed quotes to Capital Christian Center's chief operations officer Jason Batt. Mr. Batt's comments were made to the Sacramento Bee and their partial inclusion accidentally removed the context of his statements. He does not feel California is discriminating against churches and he did not say his church feels it's safe to reopen.