Fresno church wins lawsuit against state over COVID-19 Restrictions

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FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – A Fresno church has won a lawsuit against the state over Covid-19 restrictions. For well over a year, Cornerstone Church has been a part of a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom for state-imposed capacity limits on places of worship.

The state will pay $400,000 in attorney fees in this settlement according to Cornerstone’s pastor. Cross Culture Christian center in Lodi, was the initial church on this lawsuit. San Joaquin County is paying that church $100,00 in damages. Cornerstone pastor, Jim Franklin, said in a news conference Wednesday this victory highlights the importance of places of worship.

“We believe that the church is an essential part of the answer to this crisis,” Franklin said. “That church is essential!”

At the news conference, Franklin discussed how his church is taking precautions such as social distancing, making mask-wearing optional, and using devices that reportedly disinfect the air inside.

“You wouldn’t shut down a hospital in a time like this, nor should you shut down churches.”

Rev. Tim Kutzmark of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Fresno says his congregation was completely virtual for over a year, returning to in-person worship on June 1 of this year, complete with social distancing and masking. Kutzmark says going virtual and staying safe never took away from the sense of community at his church.

“It’s important to follow the science and protect the most vulnerable among us,” Kutzmark said. “And we had a thriving church community for the time that we were shut down here.”

Kutzmark says he does not want to point fingers at any other churches in the area, but says given the worsening Covid-19 situation with the surge of the delta variant, thousands of dollars spent by the state in a legal settlement isn’t beneficial.  

“Our ICUs are filled to capacity. I think that money could be spent more responsibly helping folks who are vulnerable.”

In response to the settlement, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office released the following statement:

This settlement resolves the case expeditiously and will minimize further costs associated with litigation following recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court that govern restrictions on places of worship. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the state has taken decisive action to protect public health, saving countless lives. California is a leader when it comes to health and economic outcomes and the state will continue to be guided by science and data to support our ongoing recovery.

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