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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - California Evangelicals are suing Gov. Gavin Newsom, keeping alive the faithful's fight for religious liberty in a state still reeling from the governor's most recent order to ban indoor services in most churches.
Three Protestant churches — Calvary Chapel of Ukiah, Calvary Chapel Fort Bragg, and River of Life Church — are suing Newsom after the Democratic governor mandated singing be suspended because it is "too risky," even with social distancing protocols in place.
They filed the lawsuit on July 15 in a federal court in Sacramento. It argues that the governor's order "treats churches differently than other sectors of society," and points out that Newsom "has been unwavering in his support of massive protests," where chanting is in evidence.
The three plaintiffs are exempted from Newsom's July 13 ban which required the majority of California churches to suspend indoor services altogether to prevent spreading the disease.
The governor's July 1 executive order, which forbids "singing and chanting" during indoor services, still applies to the plaintiffs.
The governor's July 13 order requires that indoor operations of "fitness centers, places of worship, offices for non-critical sectors, personal hair services and indoor malls" be terminated.
Newsom claimed the increasing number of coronavirus cases across the state forced his hand in issuing the order, "We're seeing an increase in the spread of the virus, so that's why it's incumbent upon all of us to recognize soberly that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon until there is a vaccine or an effective therapy."
Catholics throughout the Golden State have reacted to the order, appealing to bishops and pastors, as well as to the laity, to step up both in prayer and action.
California's bishops are not part of the lawsuit.
Evangelist Terry Barber, founder of Saint Joseph Communications Inc., tells Church Militant the governor has clearly overstepped his legal authority.
"It is our First Amendment right to worship," Barber says, adding, "He has no authority to dictate how we worship."
Barber is encouraging California's bishops to "challenge" Newsom "by saying we will obey God, not man."
"I tell everyone to practice the presence of God in their life with constant prayer," he says. "Pray and continue to make reparation for the sins we have committed like abortion, same-sex 'marriage' and promotion of contraception."
Barber is also inviting Golden State faithful to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament at a private chapel in Covina, California, near Los Angeles, open 24/7, that he and his wife oversee.
Mary Dannielle Barber, wife of Terry Barber, like others, chastises Newsom's closing of the churches as "a violation of our First Amendment rights and an attack on our religious liberty."
She says: "I think Gov. Newsom needs to be sued for the financial damage he has unnecessarily imposed on the state of California with his policies."
She further recommends the governor and his political colleagues be removed from office: "Recall [the governor] and all the senators and representatives who are backing his policies. They are not representing the people. They are serving themselves," she says.
She recommends prayer and repentance: "Turn to the Lord in prayer with fasting and penance, giving up our sins and begging for mercy."
Los Angeles writer and storyboard artist Angelo Libutti, who since 2017 has led an annual statewide consecration of California to Our Lady, is urging Golden State bishops to stand up like "David stood up to Goliath because he knew he was anointed and had God on his side."
"I hope the bishops remember that they are anointed and that they too can stand up to the giant politicians before it's too late," he adds. They have "the platform to unite us to fight the monstrosity of a socialist government that, as history teaches us, wants to destroy anything that belongs to Christ."
Libutti implores the bishops "to give the order to all priests to consecrate their churches and their state to Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus."
He also begs the bishops "to put an end to the closures by exercising their power to excommunicate" and urges laity to remember the ban when they go to the voting booths.
"Of all the states, California is certainly the most distant from God, the least faithful to His Commandments," Libutti told Church Militant previously, so for him Newsom's banning of church service was no surprise.
Sacramento Catholic Michael Solton, who helps organize Rosary rallies and Marian processions to the State Capitol building, calls Newsom's ban "unjust and unnecessary."
"[It's] unjust, because it violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ... which protects freedom of religion," he says. It is also "unjust because the closing defines church worship as a nonessential activity. ... For those who attend church services, this activity is entirely essential and oftentimes their entire life is built around it."
It is also "[u]nnecessary because, with just a few reasonable steps, potential exposure to infection can easily be reduced to close to zero."
"Life will never be "safe" from everything," he reasons. "I suppose they could change the speed limit to 10 mph — we would save the 35,000 highway deaths every year! If you want to live life, there will always be risk."
"We should employ our time and resources more for the honor and service due to God," the Marian devotee reflects.
Solton, like Barber, advises the faithful to pray.
But he also urges laity to "appeal to the pastors and bishops to make the sacraments available. Be creative," and do "[w]hatever it takes" to make them available.
Remind the pastors and bishops "it is unjust to restrict or deny the sacraments of the Church from the faithful," he says, and remind them they must answer "to Almighty God for their actions and inactions at that terrible moment of judgment."
Catholic commentator and Rules for Retrogrades co-author Timothy Gordon also criticizes Newsom's order as "unconstitutional."
"The state is engaging in unconstitutional religious discrimination by favoring the anti-Christian protests of terrorist organizations like Black Lives Matter but prohibiting Christian worship," he says.
Gordon finds the indefinite suspension of church services ominous.
If as the governor says, "the virus is not going away anytime soon," then "what should a good Christian's response to unconstitutional, anti-Christian mandates be ... if this continues indefinitely?"
Answering his own question, Gordon says simply, "Prayer."
But Gordon, like others, sees "civil disobedience" as an option.
"If this continues to stretch into the indefinite future, then our response will eventually be civil disobedience. Onerous, non-proportional, unconstitutional measures coming from top-down mandates are best not left unobserved, unread or ignored," he explains.
"We must soon peaceably return to the practice of the sacraments," he says, emphasizing the importance of concerted efforts:
People should judge with their own consciences," but "[it] would become time for Californians of good faith to begin a progressive, graduated program of civil disobedience, wherein one knows beforehand what the penalty for such an act of civil disobedience may be, and accept the consequence fully (hoping that a large enough number of citizens join him such as to soon change the immoral, unconstitutional legal order).
Gordon continues saying that if peaceful acts of concerted civil disobedience don't work, then "evacuate the state."
For Christians, he says, "it's the worst state in the Union," and an "overrated Sodom." Faithful people there continually feel as though they are "attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole."
The state's machinations "prove how much the state hates Christianity and its practitioners," Gordon says.
Joan Pernicano, leader of Ecclesia Militans of San Diego, echoed Gordon's position, saying now may be "the time for civil disobedience."
"I personally favor a peaceful, prayerful protest at every chancery," she says.
Referring to a Recall Gov. Newsom petition being circulated — which she recommends signing — Pernicano says: "Letters are good, but a visible push back by hundreds of people is better. Letters don't make the news, but as we all know, protests do, even peaceful ones."
"Better yet," she adds, "a lawsuit would make a bold statement that Catholic Californians have had enough!"
Pernicano finds inspiration in the words of Ven. Fulton Sheen, whom she points out, "warned many years ago that it would not be the hierarchy who would save the Church and the faith, but the laity, the flock."
"I am very disappointed with most of our bishops who are more concerned with secular issues than spiritual responsibilities to their flock. It appears to me that many are in league with the Democrats, which is really disconcerting since the Democrat Party is anti-God, anti-Catholic and anti-life," the resister says.
Some responders acknowledged that clergy may not speak out because they are muzzled by their bishops and are products of bad seminary training.
Pernicano observes that priests "are between a rock and a hard place out of obedience to their bishops."
But "[y]ou know the true shepherds by their fruit — keeping their confessionals and parish churches available daily and now taking the Mass outdoors which, no thanks to the California bishops, could have been done from the beginning," she adds.
"I have a holy envy of the Minnesota Catholics whose bishops defied the governor, threatened a lawsuit and ultimately scored a spiritual win for their flock," she says.
And Libutti believes many priests act "in good faith," but most of them, malformed by seminary study, think the problem of church closings is not as significant as it really is.
"Their priority [then] becomes the opposite of Christ's priority," he says. "They no longer think that abortion/euthanasia and child trafficking are top priorities," but they give "political correctness and climate change" higher privilege.
In fact, he observes, "the majority of church leaders are clueless about what is happening in the Church and in America."
"They have been dis-attached from the lives and needs of laypeople and are too close or too submissive to the governors or people in power," he says, thereby, "losing confidence in Christ's power and in Our Lady's."
"They are not willing to sell all their fancy houses or aristocratic lifestyles in order to pay for armed guards to defend their Church" against the "bullies," who are attacking it, he says.
Not all California Catholics agree with the responders.
Father Howard Lincoln of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Palm Desert, California, for example, supports the governor's order.
"Our right to worship has to be tempered with our clear, moral responsibility to protect others from a highly contagious and sometimes fatal disease," Lincoln says. "As a Church, we preach 'Love thy neighbor.' It is certainly not too much of a sacrifice to wear a mask and socially distance and try to protect others. Our right to freedom of religion does not include the right to expose others to this highly communicable disease."
"We've done the best we can," the priest adds, noting that plexiglass also was installed throughout the church.
Newsom identifies as Catholic, telling USA Today in 2018, he was "raised by nuns and priests" and "from an Irish Catholic family." "Maybe I should let go of [Catholicism], but I can't. It's a core belief in my soul," he claimed.
Those interested in information about the Barber's private chapel and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament can call (877) 526-2151 for more information. The "Recall Gov. Newsom" petition can be found online.
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