SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) - A large San Diego Church is continuing to hold in person, indoor services despite orders from San Diego County to hold services in outdoor settings only. Awaken Church has gotten three cease and desist orders at different locations and also had an outbreak at one of those locations, according to San Diego County.
County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the church is not cooperating with the county in regards to the outbreak at their Balboa location, so the county had to publicly announce the community outbreak and ask anyone impacted to quarantine. Typically, the specifics of community outbreaks would not be publicized, but he said the lack of cooperation from the church led to the public notice.
“The Awaken Church in general has continued to be very defiant and continue to put the members of their church at a great risk and continue to not cooperate as we seek to investigate positive cases, which led us to the unique situation of publicly reporting that they did have a public outbreak at the Awaken Church,” said Supervisor Fletcher.
Anyone who went to the location at 7620 Balboa Ave. between Nov. 15 and Nov. 22 is asked to quarantine for two weeks.
Supervisor Fletcher said the county is trying to find a balance between respecting freedom of religion and also keeping the community safe.
“We do recognize the first amendment role and I recognize the important role faith plays in our lives and in our community, particularly in a time of difficulty, which is why we work so hard to try and make sure that it is available, it just has to be available in a safe way,” he said.
Glenn Smith is a Professor of Constitutional Law at California Western School of Law and also teaches at UC San Diego, and said there’s a chance churches could fight restrictions in court, but it depends on the circumstances. He said if a church is impacted by blanket rules for an area, they would likely not win in court. A church would have to prove that they were treated differently.
“If religions are being treated in a nondiscriminatory fashion, in other words if there’s a general law that establishes how many people can be in a room or what are the conditions, and it happens to have an incidentally impact on religion, that’s not a special problem as long as government has a rational reason for doing that, that’s alright. It’s only when government discriminates against religion that a special level of review called strict scrutiny is required and government has to have a really really good reason for discrimination,” said Smith.
He added that the makeup of a court will also impact any future decisions on religious freedom, saying when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was alive, cases regarding religious freedom during the pandemic were found to not be discriminatory, however with the newly appointed Justice Barrett, it’s more likely the Supreme Court would rule in favor of a church.