Law professor explains Supreme Court’s decision in suit involving California church

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — The Supreme Court of the United States handed a temporary win to a Southern California church in its case against the state’s coronavirus restrictions. 

In an order issued Thursday, the court vacated a lower district court ruling against Harvest Rock Church of Pasadena.

But it may not have been exactly what the Pasadena church wanted in its case. 

“They said, ‘We’re not going to give you that order, but what we’re going to do is we’re going to send this case back down to the (lower) court that looked at this and they’re going to have to decide whether in fact they should grant an order or not in light of the decision we made,’” explained Leslie Jacobs. 

Jacobs, a McGeorge professor of law, says the order could be seen as encouraging for the church’s case. 

“It will require the lower courts here and probably other places too, because we’ll see more of these, to look at our state’s order and the claim by Harvest Rock in light of what the Supreme Court said with regard to the New York order,” Jacobs told FOX40. 

However, Jacobs pointed out the circumstances in New York and California are very different. 

New York severely limited capacity at houses of worship across the board based on mapped out zones, and the New York case had evidence of discrimination against the Orthodox Jewish community. 

“There was some evidence on the record, statements. And then, also, the way the lines were drawn that made the court say, ‘This looks like maybe you’re treating religion specifically,’” Jacobs said. 

She says California’s tier system is much different from New York’s zones system because it adds explanations for each tier. 

“Governor Newsom in the order, the tiers, has offered reasons and the court will say, well, are those reasons enough and do they exist,” Jacobs said. 

Plus, Jacobs says a court will also recognize California’s warmer climate. 

“Outdoor services, I will point out we’re in California, not New York. So, that’s a little more plausible to do and a court will consider that,” Jacobs said. 

But Jacobs says Harvest Rock’s legal argument is a strong one based primarily on the first amendment, claiming Governor Newsom’s order is illegal because it treats churches differently from non-religious groups and activities. 

“Their claim is and shopping malls can be open at a lower percentage, but some indoor activity can happen there and retail. And they say, ‘That’s not fair, there’s no difference.’ And, so, that’s what a court will be looking at,” Jacobs said. 

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