The lawsuit filed Monday in the United States District Court for the Central District of California claims that state officials have abused their power and used the pandemic to deprive Californians of “fundamental rights protected by the constitutions of United States and California, including freedom of religion, speech and assembly and due process and equal protection under the law. “
The lawsuit was filed by the Dhillon Law Group – which is chaired by Republican Party leader Harmeet Dhillon – on behalf of four plaintiffs, including three pastors and one church member.
The defendants are Governor Gavin Newsom as well as Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a number of officials from Riverside County and San Bernardino, including sheriffs and health workers.
Stand 6 feet apart while you pray
Newsom issued the first statewide home stay order in the United States on March 19, which urged the state’s 40 million residents to stay at home and shut down all non-essential businesses.
Despite the orders, some congregations continued to meet, including in Sacramento County where 71 people connected to a single church were subsequently infected with the coronavirus in one of the country’s largest outbreak groups.
Friday, Newsom addressed church gatherings before Easter, saying that those who planned to worship could continue to do so safely.
“While you pray, keep your feet at least six feet away from someone else,” he said. “Practice your faith, but do it in a way that allows you to stay healthy, to keep others healthy. “
The lawsuit comes after Dhillon sent a letter last week to San Bernardino county officials demanding that they ease restrictions on religious gatherings after ordering that all religious ceremonies take place electronically.
The violation of the order was punishable by a fine of $ 1,000 or imprisonment of up to 90 days. But after the letter, the county issued a “clarification” allowing religious services in person “if they choose to do so and do everything they can to prevent contact between the faithful.”
Action across the country
Religious gatherings have been at the center of legal disputes across the country.
The mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, tried to stop Easter service in a church, but a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on Saturday canceling the effort.
The administration of Kentucky Governor Laura Kelly filed a lawsuit with the Kansas Supreme Court on Thursday after Republican state leaders revoked her order to limit religious gatherings to 10 people just days before Easter .
“After consulting with my chief counsel this afternoon, I asked him to file a complaint against the Legislative Coordination Council to ensure that politics does not continue to hinder our ability to save lives in Kansas,” said said Kelly.
Meanwhile, the justice ministry has said it expects to take action on the impact of social isolation regulations on religious institutions.
CNN’s Jon Passatino, Evan Perez and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.