The decision follows Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Bacerra’s response to a First Amendment lawsuit filed in Federal Court on April 13, the day after the Christian celebration of Easter.
The Center for American Liberty sued the state and many county officials on the grounds that Newsom’s March 19 stay-in-place order was arbitrary and discriminatory – and criminalized the free practice of religion.
“The religious liberties guaranteed by our Constitution are not negotiable,” said Harmeet Dhillon, chief executive officer for American Liberty, in a statement.
Newsom responded to the lawsuit by changing course, and deciding that drive-in church services “using technology” are appropriate forms of church worship and gathering, and should be exempted from the stay-in-place order as an essential service.
His decision prompted Colusa County Ministerial Association to reach out to Colusa County Public Health to exempt churches from its expanded shelter-in-place that bans travel, other than for essential services like purchasing food and medicine, and for essential work.
Public Health approved the CCMA’s request as long as the churches adhere to physical distancing standards. County officials also announced Friday that the current expanded shelter-in-place order would not be extended after it expires on Friday.
“This victory is important, as it not only signifies that our ministerial association and 21 member churches successfully persevered in advocating for our religious liberties, it also highlights our efforts to come alongside the county and collaborate as a community partner,” said Jason McMullan, CCMA president, on Friday. “We appreciate our county administration setting the example for their public and private agencies, by engaging us as equitable contributors in caring for the community.”
In order for local churches to host drive-in church services, the county directs that ministers ask congregates to stay in their vehicles at all times, with the exception of visiting the restroom upon availability.
Congregates must wear face coverings and the church must make them available should they need to leave their vehicle.
All vehicles must keep their windows rolled up, and vehicles or persons outside their vehicles must be distanced 6 ft. apart from other vehicles or persons.
Additionally, participants, church leaders, or congregates must not have physical contact, the order states. The churches are directed to ask any congregate to leave should they not follow the guidelines.
“Our churches look forward to incorporating safe approaches in our worship and ministry to our community,” McMullan said.