The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) has announced it has secured a six-figure damage award for five California churches that were closed by Santa Clara County's COVID-19 public health orders.
The churches represented by PJI – in a joint effort with the Cannistraci Law Firm and McAllister Law Group – are Gateway City Church, The Home Church, The Spectrum Church, Orchard Community Church, and Trinity Bible Church.
On February 26, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court granted PJI's emergency writ of injunction in a 6-3 decision, allowing the churches to open their doors to hold indoor worship services. The Supreme Court agreed with PJI that the County's orders discriminated against churches by treating establishments such as grocery stores and airports more favorably.
After almost a year of negotiations, PJI reached a favorable settlement on behalf of the churches, successfully concluding their challenge of the County's health orders that had banned all indoor church services.
"PJI doesn't quit until justice is completely served, as evidenced by our unwavering challenge to the County's reprehensible health orders and our completion of a major financial settlement for the churches," Brad Dacus, founder, and president of PJI said.
"This is a classic illustration of what Benjamin Franklin meant when he coined the phrase 'doing well by doing good.' PJI protected the religious rights of the churches, and this victory manifests in the churches' continued opportunities to ensure that peoples' eternal destinies are secured—the best kind of remuneration," Dacus continued.
As CBN News has reported, California was one of the most aggressive states in the nation in terms of the restrictions placed upon its citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state and several counties levied hefty fines against houses of worship for COVID violations.
In response, local and state governments faced a string of lawsuits for unfairly targeting churches after not applying the same standards and capacity limits to warehouses, big-box centers, shopping malls, liquor stores, fitness centers, and museums.
A few months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in May and June of 2021, California began paying millions of dollars in settlements to several churches after discriminating against them with its state pandemic closure orders.
One County Not Settling, Persists with Lawsuit
As CBN News reported last December, Santa Clara County is still defying the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling and is targeting a San Jose church and its pastor with massive fines for holding church services in 2020 during the pandemic.
Calvary Chapel and its pastor Mike McClure are facing $2.8 million in fines for not shutting down the church's worship services and for allowing people to come to pray at their building in person after Gov. Gavin Newsom's ordered statewide church closures in 2020.
County officials are still demanding the church pay the fines, arguing that it violated its health orders regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in five separate cases that the government cannot treat houses of worship as second-class institutions with harsh penalties and restrictions that exceed the restrictions placed on "essential" businesses.
In February, Santa Clara County announced it would go forward with its lawsuit in an effort to collect the unpaid fines, KRON-TV reported. A Santa Clara County Superior Court even issued a ruling that allows the county to move forward with its lawsuit against the church and McClure.
CBN News has reached out to the church's attorneys with Tyler & Bursch for comment and to get an update on the case. We will post it here when we hear back.