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South Bay Church’s Lawsuit Heads To Supreme Court After Rejection At 9th Circuit Court Of Appeals

South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, May 20, 2020.

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, May 20, 2020.

It was the news many people of faith had been waiting for for weeks: Churches across California can now reopen, but with restrictions. Church buildings can only welcome back enough congregants to equal 25% of their church building's capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego plans to restart Sunday masses on June 14, and they don’t have any issue with the governor’s rules. Diocesan spokesman Kevin Eckery spoke to KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday.

“They make good sense because frankly they were all included in the work we’ve been doing for the last several weeks planning on the reopening," Eckery said.

RELATED: California Governor Issues Guidelines For Churches To Open

Reported by John Carroll , Video by Andi Dukleth

The South Bay United Pentecostal Church sued Gov. Gavin Newsom over the weeks-long prohibition against services held in church buildings, so you might think that now, with a reopening plan in place, church leadership here would no longer have a problem.

But Pastor Arthur Hodges said the governor’s reopening order for churches simply doesn’t go far enough.

The problem, Hodges said, is that even with the limited reopening, churches are still being discriminated against. Hodges was turned down by a local judge and then late Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled against him.

So now the case is being appealed to the Supreme Court.

“Restaurants and retail and shopping malls 50%, factories, no restrictions on how many can be in a factory, other industries, no restriction, offices for example, no restriction, so once again churches are being singled out for a higher restriction than anyone else," Hodges said.

He said his church has set up the most complete safety protocols in place anywhere, going beyond CDC guidelines.

That includes a plan to go through security where parishioners must answer a variety of questions, then a temperature check and mandatory hand sanitizing. Hodges also said the church building has been thoroughly sanitized. The point, he said, is that are no such strict measures at the places that get to open to 50% capacity.

Still, not only Roman Catholics but other churches say they’ll follow the governor’s guidelines.

A pastoral letter from all Episcopal Bishops across California said, “For now, we will not re-gather in our church buildings but will continue to attend church virtually in our homes, greeting each other via technology, and loving God and our neighbor. We will continue to protect, serve, and advocate for the most vulnerable among us.”

But Hodges said there needs to be a uniform ruling and that must come from the Supreme Court.

“We don’t need to go through this again," he said. "If the Supreme Court would give some guidelines here, this would help all of us going forward.”

The church’s case is now with Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who could stay the 9th’s decision and allow South Bay Pentecostal to reopen as it sees fit.

Listen to this story by John Carroll.

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John Carroll
General Assignment Reporter & Anchor

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI'm a general assignment reporter and Saturday morning radio anchor for KPBS. I love coming up with story ideas that aren't being covered elsewhere, but I'm also ready to cover the breaking news of the day. In addition, I bring you the local news headlines on Saturday mornings during NPR's Weekend Edition.

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