A California Superior Court judge at the County of Kern–Metro Division Court on Friday granted neither party what they were requesting in a case in which a Roman Catholic priest has sued Gov. Gavin Newsom and 19 other officials.
The judge will hear the case on Dec. 10, following a December 4 hearing of the state’s request to transfer the case to another judge.
The state and counties are requesting a stay; the plaintiff is requesting a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order.
On Sept. 29, Roman Catholic priest Father Trevor Burfitt sued Newsom and 19 state, county and municipal officials in Kern, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Los Angeles counties alleging they violated eight provisions of the California Constitution.
At the hearing, attorneys from the Thomas More Society, representing Burfitt and his ministries, sought a temporary restraining order to prevent enforcement of executive orders and stop alleged harassment of congregants by county employees.
Within a few weeks of Burfitt’s lawsuit, Los Angeles County sent food and garbage inspection workers to his church to undergo surveillance, the priest says.
Two county “Environmental Health Specialists” watched Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church in Arcadia, California, and issued citations on Oct. 15, after they observed two women wearing prayer veils leaving the building.
On Oct. 20, the same county employees threatened church personnel with more citations after two worshipers prayed inside a 500-capacity sanctuary, both of whom were wearing masks.
The county employees began coming to the church only after Burfitt sued.
“It’s ironic,” Thomas More Society Special Counsel Paul Jonna said in a statement. “There are dozens of churches in Arcadia – and hundreds in Los Angeles County – yet the parish of Father Burfitt, who is suing Los Angeles County, happens to be a church that these county workers choose to spy on and harass.”
Los Angeles County Environmental Health Specialists Alennie Del Rosario Romero and Brenna Santiago issued a citation with a $1,000 fine for the two women praying. The church paid the fine.
The county employees earn annual salaries between $47,000 and $87,000, whose job descriptions include performing tasks related to health inspection, investigation, and enforcement duties that revolve primarily around food sanitation and garbage disposal.
“The county has apparently decided that food and garbage inspectors are qualified to police worship activities,” Jonna added. “Heaping this harassment on Father Burfitt at the same time that he is asking the California Superior Court to uphold his religious rights and prevent the county from continuing to violate them is unacceptable. The constitutional right to petition for grievances includes the right to file a lawsuit, without retaliation or targeting.”
Burfitt’s lawsuit challenges Newsom’s eighth-month long state of emergency order and alleged constitutional violations that have incurred since the state’s initial lockdown in March.
Burfitt serves as pastor of Our Lady of Angels, oversees mission churches in Kern, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Los Angeles Counties, and hosts a series of popular podcasts.
“The perceived threat of COVID-19 has produced a despotic obsession among some governors with controlling houses of worship,” Jonna said. “Father Burfitt and other religious believers deserve to be treated the same as Lakers fans, thousands of whom gathered in Los Angeles following its NBA title clincher on October 11.”
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