California Gov. Gavin Newsom has been ordered to pay $1.35 million in a settlement reached earlier this month with a Los Angeles-area church over a lawsuit related to the state's coronavirus restrictions.
Under the terms of the settlement, Newsom’s administration can no longer place pandemic restrictions on houses of worship, according to local newspaper Pasadena Now.
Mat Staver, founder of the Liberty Counsel, which represented the Harvest Rock Church of Pasadena, called Newsom the "worst governor in America" for religious liberty, according to the Washington Examiner.
"The church stayed open [during the lockdown], and the pastor and parishioners were threatened with daily criminal charges that were up to a year in prison," he said.
The settlement amount is to repay the church's attorney costs and fees in the lawsuit brought against Newsom’s administration last summer.
"After nearly a yearlong battle defending our religious freedoms, our lawsuit has reached a permanent settlement in our favor," the Rev. Ché Ahn, founder of the church, said in a statement, according to the Patch. "I am thrilled to see the complete reversal of the last discriminatory restrictions against churches in California."
Newsom ordered non-essential businesses (of which churches were classified) to close in March 2020 in the first-in-the-nation lockdown as the virus began to spread across the state. In May of last year, the state amended the restrictions to allow 25% capacity in churches as long as it didn’t exceed 100 people.
The case brought by the church made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in February, according to Pasadena Now. In a 6-3 ruling, the court decided the church could allow 200 worshippers inside but said bans against singing and chanting could remain.
Newsom will likely face a recall election in the fall launched by critics of his coronavirus restrictions.
"Gov. Newsom’s COVID restrictions intentionally discriminated against churches while providing preferential treatment to many secular businesses and gatherings," Staver said, according to the Examiner. "What’s important is this ruling is permanent. He cannot ever do this again."
"Governor Newsom has always put the health and well-being of Californians first, resulting in the lowest positivity rates in the country and over 36 million shots in arms – more than any other state," a spokesperson in Newsom's office told Fox News. "This settlement resolves this case while providing clarity and certainty to the public around the public health standards applicable to places of worship following recent rulings by the US Supreme Court. California has led the nation in safely reopening because our decisions are based on what the science and data tells us, and we will continue to do so as we look beyond the Blueprint."
The settlement comes on the heels of a 5-4 Supreme Court decision last month that said California couldn't limit indoor, at-home religious gatherings.