CHULA VISTA (CNS) - The state of California has agreed to pay $1.6 million in attorneys' fees in settling a lawsuit brought by a Chula Vista church that sued over COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship.
The settlement between the state and South Bay United Pentecostal Church ends the long-running litigation regarding limitations on indoor worship, singing in church and other restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19, which the church alleged were unconstitutional violations of religious liberty.
The settlement includes a permanent injunction against imposing or enforcing further restrictions in connection with the state of emergency declared last year due to the pandemic, provided COVID-19 case rates and hospital admissions remain below certain numbers. Any restrictions imposed thereafter must be comparable to those "imposed on other similar gatherings of similar risk," according to the agreement.
The settlement does not prohibit the state from issuing recommendations regarding best practices during the pandemic, as long as it is clear that those messages to the public are "voluntary and not enforceable."
In a stipulation filed with the court, the state says it "continues to dispute plaintiffs' claims."
In a statement announcing the settlement, South Bay United's attorneys said the state has also agreed to pay $550,000 in attorneys' fees to settle another of the firm's cases, which also involved COVID-19 restrictions at churches. That case, filed in Kern County, was brought on behalf of a Catholic priest, Father Trevor Burfitt, who oversees churches in four California counties, including San Diego.