Catholic Priest Takes California to Court Over Coronavirus State of Emergency

California governor Gavin Newsom (D.) (Getty Images)
October 11, 2020

A Catholic priest has filed a lawsuit against California governor Gavin Newsom (D.) in an attempt to bring the state's indefinite coronavirus state of emergency to an end.

The lawsuit argues that Newsom's state of emergency is unlawful under the California constitution because of its indefinite length and overly broad requirements. Father Trevor Burfitt, the priest bringing the suit, oversees churches in several counties in the state.

"The California Constitution does not permit the State’s Governor to impose any 'emergency' restriction of fundamental rights he deems appropriate," the suit states. "Rather, any restrictions or measures that the Governor imposes must be narrowly tailored, limited in time, and serve interests of the highest order, not any goal the Governor wishes to achieve."

The suit argues that the state's lockdown is no longer a temporary action, that it is doing more harm than good, and that a return to pre-Covid "normal" will not occur without judicial intervention. California has also deemed churches "non-essential," the suit argues, meaning that churchgoers are deprived of a vital aspect of their civic lives. Given Newsom's public statements and the lack of an end date, Burfitt calls for the courts to take action to bring the state of emergency to an end.

Newsom's public health guidance, enacted in March, imposed social distancing requirements and severely limited indoor worship in California, with outright bans on indoor worship in large portions of the state. In late August, Newsom provided a roadmap for how the state will contend with the coronavirus in the long-term. "COVID-19 will be with us for a long time and we all need to adapt. We need to live differently," he said.

The suit adds to the mounting number of legal issues California lawmakers face as the coronavirus pandemic wears on. Los Angeles County is locked in an extended struggle with a megachurch that the state alleges violated coronavirus guidance by holding indoor worship.