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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A Campo church that previously sued public health officials over coronavirus restrictions on indoor church services revived its lawsuit Monday.

Attorneys for Abiding Place Ministries filed an amended complaint in San Diego federal court nearly one year after it sued the county in hopes of reopening its doors for in-person Easter Sunday services. At the time, county public health officials prohibited the church from holding its planned service, citing its order banning public gatherings.

The church filed suit to set aside the order, alleging an unconstitutional violation of the right to freely exercise one’s religion, but was denied by U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant, who ruled the county was within its authority to limit or restrict public gatherings in the face of a public health emergency.

The service was ultimately livestreamed on the internet and the lawsuit later was dismissed after public health officials modified restrictions to allow drive-in worship services and later, in-person services.

Though the suit was dismissed as moot because the restrictions challenged in the church’s lawsuit no longer were in place, attorneys representing the church said a recent Supreme Court ruling, Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, holds that the church might be able to receive “nominal damages” to recover attorneys’ fees and legal costs.

Though the church cannot obtain money damages or an order compelling modifications to the government’s policies, its attorneys said in a statement that a judgment in its favor “would be more than symbolic” and represent “a victory for the First Amendment … sending a message to the defendants that a total ban on church assemblies is unconstitutional.”

As argued in its original suit, the church alleges public health officials last spring rebuffed the church’s offers to hold drive-in services or implement other mitigation measures in order to worship in person.

“The church believes that physically assembling is the single most essential part of their life,” the complaint states. “The church’s members believe that failing to assemble for worship is an unacceptable violation of God’s commands. The church’s beliefs require that its members physically assemble.”

The complaint alleges the church was subject to criminal penalties while state and county leaders “were justifying mass gatherings of political demonstrators” and “endorsed and promoted various mass gatherings for the purpose of saying tribute to regional first responders and medical workers.”

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