The suit filed Monday in the US District Court for the Central District of California argues that state officials abused their power and used the pandemic to deprive Californians of “fundamental rights protected by the U.S. and California Constitutions, including freedom of religion, speech, and assembly, and due process and equal protection under the law.”
The suit was filed by the Dhillon Law Group — which is led by Republican Party official Harmeet Dhillon — on behalf of four plaintiffs, three of whom are pastors and one of whom is a church member.
The defendants include Gov. Gavin Newsom as well as State Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a number of Riverside and San Bernardino county officials, including the sheriffs and health officers.
Newsom’s office did not immediately return a CNN request for comment.
Move 6 feet apart as you pray
Newsom issued the first statewide stay at home order in the US on March 19, which urged the state’s 40 million residents to stay home and closed all non-essential businesses.
Despite the orders, some congregations have continued to meet, including in Sacramento County where 71 people connected to a single church were later infected with the coronavirus in one of the largest outbreak clusters in the country.
On Friday, Newsom addressed church gatherings ahead of Easter, saying those planning to worship could continue to do so in a safe manner.
“As you pray, move your feet at least six feet apart from someone else,” he said. “Practice your faith, but do so in a way that allows you to keep yourself healthy, keep others healthy.”
The suit comes after Dhillon sent a letter last week to San Bernardino County officials demanding they loosen restrictions around church gatherings after ordering all religious ceremonies be held electronically.
Violating the order was punishable by a $1,000 fine or up to 90 days imprisonment. But after the letter, the county issued a “clarification” allowing for in-person church services “if they choose to do so and make every effort to prevent contact between congregants.”
Action across the nation
Religious gatherings have been at the center of legal disputes across the country.
On Thursday, Kentucky Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration filed a lawsuit with the Kansas supreme court after the state’s Republican leaders revoked her order to limit religious gatherings to 10 people just days before Easter.
“After consulting with my chief counsel this afternoon, I have instructed him to file suit against the Legislative Coordinating Council in order to ensure that politics does not continue to hinder our ability to save Kansas lives,” Kelly said.
CNN’s Jon Passatino, Evan Perez and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.