California county reinstates ban on indoor worship

California county reinstates ban on indoor worship

People attend Christmas Eve Mass Dec. 24, 2020, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. (Credit: Victor Alemán/Angelus News via CNS.)

Santa Clara County has again banned indoor worship services out of coronavirus concerns after briefly permitting them because of a federal court ruling.

SANTA CLARA California — Santa Clara County has again banned indoor worship services out of coronavirus concerns after briefly permitting them because of a federal court ruling.

The county’s public health department announced Thursday that it was reinstating the ban a day after the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California temporarily suspended an earlier order.

The court had issued a temporary injunction against the ban Monday in a challenge filed by five local churches, prompting the Silicon Valley county of 2 million to announce that indoor worship services could resume at 20 percent of a building’s capacity.

“We are gravely disappointed” at the court’s reversal, Todd Burgett, lead pastor of Orchard Community Church, wrote in an email Thursday to the Mercury News.

The court will make a final decision at a later hearing.

“We are pleased that the Court has given us an opportunity to fully brief and argue the important legal and public health issues at stake in this case,” County Counsel James R. Williams said in a statement.

He called the county’s across-the-board ban on indoor gatherings whether religious or not “”even-handed” and said it was designed to prevent COVID-19 “super-spreader events.”

Williams also argued that the rules are “fundamentally different” from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s state order barring indoor church services.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings last Friday in two cases where churches argued the restrictions violated religious liberty. The justices said for now California can’t continue with a ban on indoor church services, but it can limit attendance to 25 percent of a building’s capacity and restrict singing and chanting inside.

Santa Clara was the only county in the state to argue that the decision didn’t apply to it.

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