Los Angeles County Environmental Health Specialists (EHS) surveilled and then fined a Catholic church that was part of a recently filed lawsuit against California Governor Gavin Newsom and 19 other state, county and municipal officials for religious freedom and constitutional violations.
On October 15, two health workers watched the church and wrote out a citation “after observing women in prayer veils leaving the building,” the Thomas More Society wrote in a press release sent to The Daily Citizen. The citation says they “observed approximately 11 parishioners (evidenced by women wearing prayer veils) exiting the church facility into the parking lot.”
Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church, in Arcadia, has a sanctuary that can seat 500 people, with more seating in the choir loft.
And the county health workers? Thomas More said they “have job descriptions detailing health inspection, investigation, and enforcement duties that revolve primarily around food sanitation and proper rubbish disposal.”
The church was fined $500 for “failure to comply with health officer order” and $500 for “interfering with the duties of health officer,” according to the citation. The church had refused to allow the EHS officers “access to the church facility for investigation.”
The church paid the fines. But the county employees came back to the church two days later with more citations, “compelling staff to eject the two masked worshipers” who were praying inside the sanctuary.
In September, Thomas More society lawyers filed a lawsuit on behalf or Father Trevor Burfitt, who “oversees mission churches in Kern, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Los Angeles Counties.” Our Lady of Angels is one of those churches.
California was the first state to impose a COVID-19 quarantine, on March 19. In August, the state adopted a color-coded four-tier system for quarantine restrictions, based on cases per 100,000 people. Cities and counties across the state have added their own regulations and penalties.
The complaint says, “Newsome’s lockdown was originally supposed to be only a temporary emergency measure. However, nearly seven months later it appears that, absent judicial intervention, there will never be a ‘reopening’ to normal, pre-COVID activity, despite incontestable facts – including California’s own data…showing that the lockdown is no longer warranted and is causing far more harm than good.”
Paul Jonna is Special Counsel with Thomas More. He believes Los Angeles County is targeting and retaliating against Fr. Burfitt. Jonna said, “It’s ironic, there are dozens of churches in Arcadia – and hundreds in Los Angeles County – yet the parish of Father Burfitt, who is suing Los Angeles County, happens to be a church that these county workers choose to spy on and harass.”
He continued, “The perceived threat of COVID-19 has produced a despotic obsession among some governors with controlling houses of worship. Father Burfitt and other religious believers deserve to be treated the same as Lakers fans, thousands of whom gathered in Los Angeles following its NBA title clincher on October 11.”
Thomas More attorneys are considering additional legal action against LA County.
Jonna said, “The county has apparently decided that food and garbage inspectors are qualified to police worship activities. Heaping this harassment on Father Burfitt at the same time that he is asking the California Superior Court to uphold his religious rights and prevent the county from continuing to violate them is unacceptable. The constitutional right to petition for grievances includes the right to file a lawsuit, without retaliation or targeting.”
Related articles and resources:
Read the complaint: Father Trevor Burfitt v. Gavin Newsom, et al.
Photo from SSPX
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