San Bernardino County Rescinds Unconstitutional Order Banning In-Person Easter Services After Challenge by Dhillon Law Group and the Center for American Liberty
San Bernardino, Calif. — Dhillon Law Group and the Center for American Liberty scored an early victory in pursuit of religious liberty for residents of San Bernardino County, Calif. one day after sending a letter threatening imminent litigation on behalf of religious congregants and organizations, the County changed its position, now assuring that “faith based organizations or individuals, face nothreat of citations or other punishment for their faith based activities over the Easter weekend wherein every effort is made to prevent contact between congregants and adherence to social distancing guidance.”
On April 7, 2020, the County banned all religious services that are not online. The Order expressly prohibited residents from leaving their homes for drive-in services.
On April 8, 2020, the County offered guidance clarifying “the specific references to drive-in religious services.” At the time, the County stated that “such services” could take place so long as “every effort” is made to “prevent contact between congregants.” The guidance then stated “the County does not expect law enforcement to broadly impose citations on violators,” implying that some residents could still expect selective enforcement, as in a game of “Easter Russian Roulette.”
Last night’s response from the County to the Center for American Liberty promises that all religious services, not just drive-in services, can take place so long as responsible social distancing measures are implemented.
“We are thrilled that San Bernardino County re-evaluated its previous position and will no longer threaten practicing Christians with criminal penalties for attending Easter services this weekend,” said Harmeet K. Dhillon, Chief Executive Officer of the Center for American Liberty. “However, the Constitution does not only guarantee religious liberty on Easter Sunday, or only to Christians. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right and the government must respect the dignity of all persons, regardless of their faith background, to exercise their faith according to the dictates of one’s conscience.”
“The Center for American Liberty will continue to advocate for religious liberty for the residents of San Bernardino County, the state of California, and for the country as a whole,” Dhillon said. “It is both arbitrary and unconstitutional for government to deem liquor stores and pot dispensaries “essential, while shutting down churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples as “nonessential.”
“The free exercise of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution, and it is time that government recognize it as such,” Dhillon said. “During a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, religious organizations and services are more important than ever to the faithful, and any arbitrary barriers that purport to assign a second-class importance to religion must fall.”
About the Center for American Liberty
The Center for American Liberty is a nonprofit litigation, education, and public policy organization dedicated to advancing Free Speech rights and Civil Liberties. Founded by Harmeet Dhillon in 2019, the Center for American Liberty offers pro-bono and low-bono legal representation to Americans whose fundamental freedoms are violated.
See CAL’s press release here, with our letter, plus the county’s response below: