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SCOTUS: California churches can meet indoors

Saturday, February 6, 2021, 8:25 am | Randy Thomasson

If you know your Constitution, you already know the First Amendment can’t be canceled by “health concerns.” And now the U.S. Supreme Court agrees California churches can’t be prohibited from meeting indoors!

Here’s the news and my brief analysis:

Friday, February 5, just before 8 p.m. PST, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in response to cases from two California churches (South Bay Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena).

The bottom line is six of the nine justices agreed that nowhere in California can government authorities prohibit houses of faith from holding indoor services.

As Politico reported: “The court blocked the prohibition on indoor worship services in the most hardly hit areas, but allowed some limitations based on capacity percentages to stay in place as well as a prohibition on singing and chanting during indoor services.”

Highlighting the positive, this means throughout California (from Purple Zone or “better”), no longer can cities and counties fine pastors or churches for holding indoor meetings. This decision provides real relief for oppressed pastors, such as Rob McCoy in Ventura County, Ché Ahn in Los Angeles County, Mike McClure in Santa Clara County, and other bold pastors, who have suffered tyrannical fines and lawsuits just for obeying the New Testament exhortation about “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.”

In response to this ruling, I urge every pastor who’s been reluctant to hold indoor meetings — go with the Bible, the First Amendment, and now the U.S. Supreme Court, and open your doors for meetings!

The U.S. Supreme Court split three ways — basically three constitutionalists on this issue (Thomas, Gorsuch, and Alito), three in the mushy middle (Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Roberts), and three non-constitutionalists (Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor). But the Republican president’s nominees on the high court agreed there’s no justification for government’s zero tolerance for indoor church meetings. And more arguments about singing and full capacity will continued to be argued in federal court in California.

Here is the court’s opinion and its summary paragraph, which is a bit technical. The point is the first sentence, stating that the respondents (Gavin Newsom, Xavier Becerra, etc.) are enjoined (stopped) from prohibiting “indoor worship services”:

“Respondents are enjoined from enforcing the Blueprint’s Tier 1 prohibition on indoor worship services against the applicants pending disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari. The application is denied with respect to the percentage capacity limitations, and respondents are not enjoined from imposing a 25% capacity limitation on indoor worship services in Tier 1. The application is denied with respect to the prohibition on singing and chanting during indoor services. This order is without prejudice to the applicants presenting new evidence to the District Court that the State is not applying the percentage capacity limitations or the prohibition on singing and chanting in a generally applicable manner.”

Here are reports on the court’s ruling by Liberty Counsel and SCOTUSblog.

It’s worth reading the opinion of Neil Gorsuch:

Statement of JUSTICE GORSUCH, with whom JUSTICE THOMAS and JUSTICE ALITO join.

Often, courts addressing First Amendment free exercise challenges face difficult questions about whether a law reflects “‘subtle departures from neutrality,’” “‘religious gerrymander[ing],’” or “impermissible targeting” of religion. Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520, 534–535 (1993). But not here. Since the arrival of COVID–19, California has openly imposed more stringent regulations on religious institutions than on many businesses. The State’s spreadsheet summarizing its pandemic rules even assigns places of worship their own row. See App. to Emergency Application for Writ of Injunction, App. G–3. At “Tier 1,” applicable today in most of the State, California forbids any kind of indoor worship. Meanwhile, the State allows most retail operations to proceed indoors with 25% occupancy, and other businesses to operate at 50% occupancy or more. See ibid; see also _ F. 3d _, 2021 WL 222814, App. A (CA9, Jan. 22, 2021). Apparently, California is the only State in the country that has gone so far as to ban all indoor religious services. See Brief for Becket Fund for Religious Liberty as Amicus Curiae, 5–6.

When a State so obviously targets religion for differential treatment, our job becomes that much clearer. As the Ninth Circuit recognized, regulations like these violate the First Amendment unless the State can show they are the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government interest. _ F. 3d, at _, 2021 WL 222814, *9.

In cases implicating this form of “strict scrutiny,” courts nearly always face an individual’s claim of constitutional right pitted against the government’s claim of special expertise in a matter of high importance involving public health or safety. It has never been enough for the State to insist on deference or demand that individual rights give way to collective interests. Of course we are not scientists, but neither may we abandon the field when government officials with experts in tow seek to infringe a constitutionally protected liberty. The whole point of strict scrutiny is to test the government’s assertions, and our precedents make plain that it has always been a demanding and rarely satisfied standard. See Lukumi, 508 U. S., at 546. Even in times of crisis—perhaps especially in times of crisis—we have a duty to hold governments to the Constitution.

Still, California says it can thread the needle. It insists that religious worship is so different that it demands especially onerous regulation. The State offers essentially four reasons why: It says that religious exercises involve (1) large numbers of people mixing from different households; (2) in close physical proximity; (3) for extended periods; (4) with singing.

No one before us disputes that factors like these may increase the risk of transmitting COVID–19. And no one need doubt that the State has a compelling interest in reducing that risk. This Court certainly is not downplaying the suffering many have experienced in this pandemic. But California errs to the extent it suggests its four factors are always present in worship, or always absent from the other secular activities its regulations allow. Nor has California sought to explain why it cannot address its legitimate concerns with rules short of a total ban. Each of the State’s shortcomings are telltale signs this Court has long used to identify laws that fail strict scrutiny. See, e.g., First Nat. Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U. S. 765, 793 (1978) (The State’s proffered “purpose is belied, however, by the provisions of the statute, which are both underinclusive and overinclusive.”).

Consider California’s arguments in turn. The State presumes that worship inherently involves a large number of people. Never mind that scores might pack into train stations or wait in long checkout lines in the businesses the State allows to remain open. Never mind, too, that some worshippers may seek only to pray in solitude, go to confession, or study in small groups. See Harvest Rock Church, Inc. v. Newsom, App. to Emergency Application for Writ of Injunction, No. 20A137, Exh. A, No. 20–56357, p. 4, n. 1 (CA9, Jan. 25, 2021) (O’Scannlain, J., specially concurring). Nor does California explain why the less restrictive option of limiting the number of people who may gather at one time is insufficient for houses of worship, even though it has found that answer adequate for so many stores and businesses.

Next, the State tells us that worshippers are sure to seek close physical interactions. It touts its mild climate, too, suggesting that worshippers might enjoy more space outdoors. Yet, California is not as concerned with the close physical proximity of hairstylists or manicurists to their customers, whom they touch and remain near for extended periods. The State does not force them or retailers to do all their business in parking lots and parks. And California allows people to sit in relatively close proximity inside buses too. Nor, again, does California explain why the narrower options it thinks adequate in many secular settings—such as social distancing requirements, masks, cleaning, plexiglass barriers, and the like—cannot suffice here. Especially when those measures are in routine use in religious services across the country today.

California worries that worship brings people together for too much time. Yet, California does not limit its citizens to running in and out of other establishments; no one is barred from lingering in shopping malls, salons, or bus terminals. Nor, yet again, has California explained why more narrowly tailored options, like a reasonable limit on the length of indoor religious gatherings, would fail to meet its concerns.

When it comes to each of the first three factors, California singles out religion for worse treatment than many secular activities. At the same time, the State fails to explain why narrower options it finds sufficient in secular contexts do not satisfy its legitimate interests. Recently, this Court made it abundantly clear that edicts like California’s fail strict scrutiny and violate the Constitution. See Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, ante, at _ (per curiam). Today’s order should have been needless; the lower
courts in these cases should have followed the extensive guidance this Court already gave.1

1 While today’s case concerns the total ban on indoor worship found in “Tier 1,” nothing in our order precludes future challenges to the other disparate occupancy caps applicable to places of worship, particularly in “Tiers” 2 through 4. See App. to Emergency Application for Writ of Injunction, App. G–3.

If I have a quibble with the Court’s order, it is with how it addresses California’s final factor, singing. While the Court’s order requires California to allow churches to open, it also permits California to enforce, for now, a categorical ban on singing during services. This much might seem understandable. California has sensibly expressed concern that singing may be a particularly potent way to transmit the disease, and it has banned singing not just at indoor worship services, but at indoor private gatherings, schools, and restaurants too.

But, on further inspection, the singing ban may not be what it first appears. It seems California’s powerful entertainment industry has won an exemption.2 So, once more, we appear to have a State playing favorites during a pandemic, expending considerable effort to protect lucrative industries (casinos in Nevada; movie studios in California) while denying similar largesse to its faithful. See, e.g., Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak, 591 U. S. , 2020) (GORSUCH, J., dissenting from denial of application for injunction relief).

2 There is some confusion over what rules actually apply to Hollywood but I would not allow the government officials who created California’s complex regime to benefit from its confusing nature. The district court did not address the singing ban, and the Ninth Circuit applied rational basis review because it was not convinced that anyone is permitted to sing indoors in California. _ F. 3d., _, 2021 WL 222814, *18 (CA9, Jan. 22, 2021). But the record suggests that music, film, and television studios are permitted to sing indoors. See Record in No. 20–56358, Doc. 18–4, p. 124 (CA9) (decl. of Screen Actors Guild General Counsel) (“Singing in larger groups [inside the studio] is permitted but only . . . with additional protections.”). California’s most recent edict prohibits singing at “private” “social situations” as well as “activities protected by the First Amendment to the extent they are not already permitted by other guidance.” California Dept. of Public Health, Guidance for the Prevention of COVID–19 Transmission for Gatherings (updated Nov. 13, 2020). No one seems to know exactly how far this language stretches, but it seems unlikely to apply to the entertainment industry, which has its own governing guidance. And California does not squarely deny as much here. See Brief in Opposition 51–52, and n. 52. As the Court recognizes, though, nothing in today’s order precludes future relief on this claim either.

Once more, too, the State has not explained how a total ban on religious singing is narrowly tailored to its legitimate public health concerns. Even if a full congregation singing hymns is too risky, California does not explain why even a single masked cantor cannot lead worship behind a mask and a plexiglass shield. Or why even a lone muezzin may not sing the call to prayer from a remote location inside a mosque as worshippers file in. The Ninth Circuit sought to defend California’s uneven regime by observing that the entertainment industry has adopted COVID–19 testing protocols. See _ F. 3d., at _, 2021 WL 222814, *13. But, if that’s true, it is unclear why California’s religious institutions might be denied a similar opportunity. Rather than assume such testing is infeasible, California might have at least offered the option, or sought to adapt it to churches. In my view, the State must do more to tailor the requirements of public health to the rights of its people. The Court’s order today at least allows the applicants to press
these points on remand.

No doubt, California will argue on remand, as it has before, that its prohibitions are merely temporary because vaccinations are underway. But the State’s “temporary” ban on indoor worship has been in place since August 2020, and applied routinely since March. California no longer asks its movie studios, malls, and manicurists to wait. And one could be forgiven for doubting its asserted timeline. Government actors have been moving the goalposts on pandemic-related sacrifices for months, adopting new benchmarks that always seem to put restoration of liberty just around the corner. As this crisis enters its second year— and hovers over a second Lent, a second Passover, and a second Ramadan—it is too late for the State to defend extreme measures with claims of temporary exigency, if it ever could. Drafting narrowly tailored regulations can be difficult. But if Hollywood may host a studio audience or film a singing competition while not a single soul may enter California’s churches, synagogues, and mosques, something has gone seriously awry.

The framers of our Constitution meant we were to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.
U.S. Christian evangelist Billy Graham

Renaming schools is an anti-American, racist agenda

Wednesday, February 3, 2021, 10:47 am | Randy Thomasson
Theodore Roosevelt, Dianne Feinstein, and Abraham Lincoln weren’t slaveowners, yet, still hated by the Radical Left, they’ve been erased from San Francisco’s K-12 schools.

What does it mean that some government school districts (San Francisco and Berkeley to start) are eliminating our U.S. Founding Fathers and other U.S. Presidents as school names?

In godless, Democrat-controlled San Francisco, the school board has eliminated George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and 40 others for school names. This follows the Berkeley school district erasing Washington and Jefferson last summer.

It’s all part of the Radical Left’s attempt to divide people and promote racism, saying these historical figures engaged in “enslavement” or “oppression” or “diminished opportunities.” Nothing good about our U.S. founding fathers will be said or taught to schoolchildren.

Why is this happening? Deep down, these Democrat-controlled school boards are trying to ignite a race war by denouncing “slaveowners” and other undesirables who never owned slaves. Their goal is to teach dark-skinned children to identify with “slaves” (a big lie) and make their race their top identity (a recipe for racism). This is in line with the “1619 Project” and “critical race theory” brainwashing, which teach that whites hate blacks, so black should hate whites. Then a new Leftist army can rise up and take over.

Yet all reality-based Americans should reject racism and embrace the goal of a colorblind society:

Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Burgess Owens: “We’re dealing with whether we’re going to accept the idea of socialism and Marxism and atheism. Or go back to the American way, Judeo-Christian values, which meritocracy is part of it. The idea that content and character and talent are colorblind.”

President Theodore Roosevelt: “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all … Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance. But if he is heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as any one else.”

What’s more, among true Christians, there are to be no racial identities or distinctions, but all have their #1 identities in Jesus Christ as part of His Church. As it is written, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) and “where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

And what about the charges of “systemic racism” and “injustice”? The only U.S. citizens are “Americans.” The only laws about race prohibit racial discrimination. There is no systemic racism, except from Radical Leftists claiming it, promoting “group guilt,” and promulgating racial division instead of American unity.

Because when Southern states’ segregation laws were dismantled by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a colorblind society began, valuing personal responsibility and individual merit. This “equal opportunity” society was a fulfillment of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s colorblind dream. Yet the push for racial quotas, “affirmative action,” racial identity, and identification with past slavery is a racist nightmare — a volatile, concocted recipe of victimhood, irresponsibility, violence, anti-Americanism, and anti-Christianity.

Another thing these Democrat/New-Communist-controlled school boards want to do is prevent children from admiring our written Constitution, the foundation of our republic. Specifically, they want to change our system of justice from individual guilt or innocence to group guilt or innocence, leading to vast, subjective injustice convicting innocent people of made-up “crimes.” A pure democracy with no rules!

YOUR ACTION STEPS:

  1. Remember who these revisionist-history, teacher-union-endorsed school board members are, and encourage your friends to vote against them next election.
  2. Share with others — and post on news sites — portions of the above message.
  3. Let this motivate you to get your children or grandchildren into homeschooling or church schooling. Someone’s going to shape their minds, hearts, and souls. Don’t let it be the non-academic, politically-correct, sexually-indoctrinating, awful peer-pressure, godless government schools. Rescue your child.

…democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
U.S. Founding Father James Madison in Federalist Paper #10 (1787)

Overcoming political depression

Thursday, January 21, 2021, 11:59 am | Randy Thomasson

SaveCalifornia.com provides this solely for educational purposes
and does not support or oppose candidates for public office.

If you’re a conservative or a Christian, you’re probably politically depressed right now. I’ve suffered from bouts of depression both this week and last, not because I put my trust in man, but because our constitutional republic is falling apart.

Yet, as a wanna-be-disciple of Jesus Christ, I don’t want my depression to last long. No, I want to overcome depression by a) realizing I choose my attitude, b) changing my expectations, and c) reclaiming a Biblical worldview.

My attitude is my choice

I must ask myself, “Am I unhappy because of my circumstances?” And “Am I unhappy because of other people?” If yes to either, I know I’m a victim of my own wrong thinking. Since even prideful people can train themselves to not depend on losses or other people’s opinions, then I can too. But I want to do better, by agreeing with Jesus Christ that my identity is in Him, and recommitting that I’m willing to suffer and die for Him. And then my cares tend to fade.

Applying this to the new White House occupant, I’m going to test myself whether I spend more time praising Jesus or worrying about Biden & Company. But avoiding worry doesn’t mean I avoid love or work. No, resisting fretting gives me more room in my mind and heart to love Jesus and love people. Saying no to worry actually helps me focus and energizes me to work with more urgency, insight, and creativity to defeat the New Communism that’s invaded the USA.

Changing my expectations

It’s a fact that we get the government we deserve. Because We the People ARE the government, and we elect “representatives” to work for us. And Americans have elected some secretaries of states and some county registrars of voters who engage in the unconstitutional, unfair, traitorous practice of election fraud.

We get the government we deserve because people who know what’s good, true, and right aren’t the authorities and gatekeepers that love their fellow man. Remember the biblical truism “You reap what you sow”? Most of America is sowing evil (putting their kids in government schools, seeking comfort at all costs, not loving one’s fellow man, worshiping feelings, and pursuing significance apart from God’s approval).

It’s also a spiritual reality that God is not blessing or protecting America, since His blessing is conditional. Creator God will not bless disobedience. And Americans are sinning against God big-time!

Another truth I must acknowledge is that Democrat politicians are professional liars. Therefore, we must not believe what they say, but watch what they do. I’m glad conservatives are transferring to alternative social media so they can expose these charlatans without having their accounts canceled.

Unfortunately, this unconstitutional “cancel culture” of the Democrats has been a long time coming. It’s a mark of Communism — which is merely totalitarianism disguised as populism — to prohibit dissent. That’s what Big Media does with their one-sided stories, what Big Tech and its Leftist allies are doing to “cancel” conservative voices, and what Biden & Company want to do by criminalizing free speech that they deem “political extremism,” “white supremacy,” and “domestic terrorism.” Their subjective definitions of these words and making themselves to be “the law” are a clear and present danger to half of all Americans.

Reclaiming a Biblical worldview

How can I be both positive and realistic? By reading God’s Word and believing it and living it. Here are five biblical truths to which I’m holding tight:

1. “Repent“: From Genesis to Revelation, Creator God wants each one of us to consider where we sin and turn from our wicked ways. In Revelation, Jesus Christ repeatedly calls on people created in His image to repent of their sins: “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”

This means our work of informing people what’s right and what’s wrong will continue to the end. God’s love compels us to continue telling the truth, so that some people, some families, and some societies can change their minds. And Jesus really wants His Church to repent (Revelation 2 and 3). Real repentance would mean many things, including the Church becoming the most powerful force for good government.

2. “Light repels darkness”: The reason for election fraud is true Christians have not been shining their lights to become county registrars of voters and secretaries of states. As a result, people with darkened minds and hardened hearts attain power and become political prostitutes, selling out to the highest bidder. And yes, there are prostitutes in both political parties, as seen by “Republican” pro-lockdown county supervisors and “Republican” pro-impeachment-of-President-Trump members of Congress

The observed fact that light repels darkness means darkness will not depart voluntarily, but must be forcibly overcome. So, this year, biblical pastors and people with strong moral standards must rise up to fight evil with a concerted effort. And in states with Republican-controlled legislatures, ensuring election integrity must be Job #1. This means passing laws requiring strict photo ID and in-person voting and no more machines.

3. “Big lies eventually break down”: Sometimes it takes decades and generations, but lies eventually are rejected because they “just don’t work” for most people. Because a lie cannot survive a trial when the evidence of reality is thrown against it. Remember how Communism broke down in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. On our own soil, for the sake of religious liberty, the Plymouth Colony was founded in 1620. Then, in 1776, our Christian-based American Revolution rejected British tyranny and birthed our nation. So when thoughts and words — not actions — are punished, when property rights and religious freedom are oppressed, and when unnatural “sex” is forced in government schools nationally, reasonable people are going to rise up and reject the lies of the ruling Democrats. Because they want what works. So it’s up to you and me and others like us to constantly show the benefits of doing things God’s way, which is always good, right, and true.

4. “The future of the wicked shall be cut off”: Based on the principle found in Proverbs 37, I predict the ruling Democrats in Washington, D.C. will overdo it, offending most Americans. Control of both Congress and the White House is too tempting for the Radical Left. When they start imposing their lie-based agenda, making average Americans poorer and with fewer constitutional rights, it’s going to rub average persons the wrong way. This year and the 2022 election year, we need to expose the evil excesses of the ruling Democrats. Because the pain of the Democrat regime will be a historic chance for more people to become more conservative and vote better.

5. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”: Based on this dependable, biblical truth. I want to sincerely submit to Jesus as my King to obey, whether a Democrat or Republican is in the White House. When loyal to King Jesus, the Savior of the world, I can be a faithful soldier who shines my light boldly, without fear of suffering or death. And I eagerly want to take more territory for Jesus Christ’s kingdom values!

My friend, I hope this has helped you think, have greater perspective and peace, and regain hope that you can make a positive impact — perhaps even more than ever — here in 2021.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”

“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” by Christian hymnwriter Helen Lemmel