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Court issues preliminary injunction protecting Father Trevor Burfitt's Catholic churches from COVID-19 restrictions

Posted at 12:23 PM, Dec 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-14 11:18:59-05

A Kern County Superior Court judge has issued a preliminary injunction protecting a Catholic church from COVID-19 restrictions.

On Thursday, Judge Gregory Pulskamp issued the injunction, stemming from a lawsuit filed by Father Trevor Burfitt against California Governor Gavin Newsom, the state's Attorney General Xavier Becerra and local officials over lock down measures in place due to COVID-19.

Burfitt oversees Catholic churches in California, including St. Michael's Church in Bakersfield.

In his judgment, Pulskamp said, "This Court wholeheartedly agrees with the following sentiment: 'Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty. Before allowing this to occur, we have a duty to conduct a serious examination of the need for such a drastic measure.'"

Judge Pulskamp went on to also say, "The free exercise of religion clause in the California Constitution prohibits Defendants from treating religious activities worse than comparable secular activities. California's current Covid-related restrictions do exactly that. This Court is not in a position to rewrite the restrictions or dictate to Defendants specifically how the restrictions may be cured.

"However, the Court is in a position to prohibit enforcement of the restrictions against Plaintiff pending trial, and rules accordingly. The Court makes no rulings at this time with respect to Plaintiff's separation of powers claim. The Court also does not make any rulings with respect to Defendants' Covid-related restrictions that were created at the city and county levels, except that those restrictions are also not enforceable against Plaintiff to the extent that they incorporate the State of California's restrictions."

Judge Pulskamp said the defendants, which also included Kern County Public Health Director Matt Constantine, Sheriff Donny Youngblood, and Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Terry for their enforcement of pandemic-related health orders, cannot enforce provisions in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the regional stay-at-home order and "all Covid-19 restrictions that fail to treat houses of worship equal to the favored class of entities."