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San Diego Judge Again Denies Church’s Challenge On State’s COVID Restrictions

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.

A San Diego federal judge has again denied a Chula Vista church's request to challenge the state's COVID-19-related restrictions on indoor worship services.

South Bay United Pentecostal Church, which lost a challenge to the restrictions earlier this year when the case went before the U.S. Supreme Court, filed an amended complaint this summer in its ongoing lawsuit arguing that California's restrictions on indoor services and singing are unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant, who denied the church's request for a preliminary injunction in May, also denied South Bay United's latest request in a written order signed Wednesday.

Bashant echoed much of her previous reasoning in denying the church's request, though South Bay United's latest complaint and her ruling took into account the shifting state of the virus locally.

South Bay United argued in court papers that the state's "scientific pronouncements" are "largely baseless," as by "all reasonable scientific measurements," the COVID-19 health emergency "has ended."

Bashant disagreed with the church's assessment of the current picture, and wrote that limitations to indoor worship attendance do not restrict one's ability to attend religious gatherings, as long as they are held outdoors.

The judge wrote that the current COVID-19 situation in San Diego County holds that worship services may be held outdoors, with singing and chanting permitted. Indoor worship is limited to 100 people or 25% of building capacity — whichever is fewer — with singing and chanting prohibited.

The church has argued that outdoor worship and services held over video-conferencing are "inadequate substitutes" and that the public health orders prohibit the church "from holding the services mandated by scripture."

It also argued that California arbitrarily allowed certain sectors considered essential to stay open and conduct indoor operations while discriminating against religious institutions.

Bashant disagreed that public health officials have shown a pattern of discriminatory enforcement of COVID-19 health orders against religious institutions.

She wrote that through Aug. 26, the county served 10 cease-and-desist orders or compliance letters to businesses or other entities, three of which were places of worship.

Additionally, she wrote that through Aug. 26, 144 citations were issued for health order violations, none of which were to places of worship or people engaged in religious services.

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