CHULA VISTA, Calif. — A Chula Vista pastor whose church sued Gov. Gavin Newsom to allow in-person religious gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic says he willing to take his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if churches don’t reopen soon.
South Bay United Pentecostal Church and senior pastor, Bishop Arthur Hodges III, are appealing a ruling made last week by U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant which denied the church’s reopening request. The lawsuit filed earlier this month alleges state and local officials “intentionally denigrated California churches and pastors,” relegating them to so-called “third-class citizenship.”
Bashant ruled that churches correctly were placed under Stage 3 of the state’s phased reopening plan because they involve people “sitting together in a closed environment for long periods of time.”
Hodges said he’s upset, particularly after a recent San Diego County reopening plan was approved by the state allowing restaurants and retail stores to open with restrictions while in-person church services still are not permitted.
“Where’s the churches?” he told Fox 5 recently. “We’re still in Phase 3. Where’s the date, TBD… to be determined. And look where they sandwiched us, religious services right between movie theaters and sports leagues. I’m sorry, Governor. I’m sorry, county supervisor of San Diego, churches are not entertainment and churches not a sport.”
Hodges added, “Churches are an essential — in fact, we would argue the most essential.”