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Pasadena Church Wins Partial Victory Over Indoor Worship

A man prays while attending an Easter service at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, Sunday, April 12, 2020. Many churches are adapting their services as Christians around the world are celebrating Easter at a distance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP
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Churches, including a Pasadena location that filed suit, have won a partial victory against California's ban on indoor worship services during the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Friday that the ban on indoor worship violated First Amendment guarantees, clearing the way for churches in the state to reopen their doors to parishioners.

In a 6-3 ruling along ideological lines, the high court ruled that "regulations like these violate the First Amendment unless the State can show they are the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government interest.''

The ruling did leave in place a 25% capacity limit, and bars singing and chanting, saying these activities pose a heightened risk of transmitting COVID-19.

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The ruling came in response to legal action from Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, which has more than 160 churches across the state, and the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista.

The Pasadena church filed a federal civil complaint against California Gov. Gavin Newsom last summer over coronavirus restrictions. It also faced warnings for noncompliance from the city of Pasadena.

The church is led by Pastor Ché Ahn, an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump who spoke about the lawsuit at a pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 5, the day before right-wing extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol.

“First time an elected official is telling us how to worship God,” Ahn told the crowd at the D.C. rally, "and so we decided to sue Governor Newsom. We said enough is enough."

Ahn is shown in a video from the rally telling the crowd that “this is the most important week in America’s history,” adding, “I believe that this week we are going to throw Jezebel out, and Jehu is going to rise up, and we are going to rule and reign through President Trump, and under the worship of Jesus Christ.”

His church is not the only one that has protested COVID-19 rules. California's regional stay-at-home orders have allowed only for outdoor religious worship, a controversial sticking point for some churches that have pushed for indoor services.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted guidance for faith communities to “discern how best to practice their beliefs while keeping their staff and congregations safe.”


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