Churches Sue Newsom Over Stay-at-Home Order

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The pastors of several churches in the Inland Empire have filed a lawsuit against county leaders as well as California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

They say the issue is the First Amendment. Some local pastors believe the stay-at-home orders violate their religious freedom.

"The church has to be the beacon of light," said Patrick Scales, a pastor at Shield of Faith Family Church in Fontana. "It has to offer light in a dark time that we are living in."

Scales is one plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Newsom's stay-at-home order, which was created to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The lawsuit also includes San Bernardino and Riverside counties, which also have orders barring group gatherings.

"We have the right to assemble as long as we do it in a responsible manner," he said.

Newsom's office did not immediately return a call.

Scales says there is a double standard with current orders allowing essential businesses such as grocery stores to stay open.

You could stand in line for hours for a roll of toilet paper or some bottles of water, but the pastor says the same people can't come to church and worship together while practicing social distancing.

"We do practice and provide gloves and sanitizer and face masks to all those who don't have any," Scales said. "We've shifted our chairs around so they're six and a half feet apart."

Scales and the other plaintiffs believe the state and local orders are a violation of their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and assembly.

"I could see this being a big battle and just the tip of the iceberg," Karen Sloat, a local attorney said about the lawsuit. She says the churches appear to have a strong case.

"The governor and the counties have put in these restriction solely on the coronavirus protections and science and have not considered the First Amendment rights of all of us," Sloat said.

The pastor of a church in Indio who's also part of the lawsuit claims Riverside County fined him $1,000 for holding a service on Palm Sunday.

But a county spokesperson says they did not fine him. Pastor Scales says he is still deciding on whether or not to violate the orders by holding in-person services at his own church.

"If you take away our faith and you take away our First Amendment rights, sir, what do we have left?" he said.

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