Downtown Fresno church victorious in lawsuit against state

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A downtown Fresno church is celebrating a win in a lawsuit against the state.

Cornerstone Church took part in one of several suits against the State of California and Governor Newsom over religious freedom and forced closures during the height of the pandemic. On Wednesday, church leaders announced details on the legal victory.

"We are thankful to announce that our case was settled in our favor," said Cornerstone Church's Pastor Jim Franklin.

Franklin said this is one of the first federal lawsuits challenging government restrictions imposed on places of worship in California.

Cornerstone Church serves about 1,000 people each Sunday, and helps deliver meals to those in need.

Franklin says they could not afford to shut down for the sake of the people they help.

"Well, because of our case and several other courageous pastors, churches now will know that they're going to be open," said Pastor Franklin. "That's not just for pastors to be able to come and preach a message. That's for the services of the church that go out and help the hurting during times like this."

The lawsuit was filed in April of 2020, challenging Governor Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta, and Fresno County.

The catalyst was when U.S. Supreme Court made multiple rulings striking down California's coronavirus public health mandates in Tandon vs.Newsom. The church reopened safely at the end of May 2020.

Since then, the church has gone the extra step in protecting their congregants. They have also installed a bio-defense system they say kills the virus in the air by putting out dry hydrogen peroxide.

Franklin says now they leave it up to the individual if they want to wear a mask or social distance.

"We recognize the seriousness of it, but we also believe in the responsibility of the individual," Pastor Franklin said.

Dean Broyles is the Chief Counsel at The National Center for Law & Policy. He said, "If our first amendment right can be traded away by any threat, whether it's a big threat or a medium threat or even a small threat like this virus, then our constitutional rights are not secure."

State defendants will pay $400,000 in attorney fees to the Plaintiff's counsel. The San Joaquin County Defendants will pay $100,000 to Cross Culture Community Center in Lodi. The counsel says they believe this is the first time where a county has paid damages to a church resulting from government COVID-19 restrictions. Cornerstone did not seek any damages.

The NCLC represented both Cornerstone Church and CCCC.

Pastor Jon Duncan over CCCC says, "We need to be around one another, to encourage, to lift up, to pray, to point, not everything is terrible, not everything is that bad, to really pick our neighbor and carry they burdens and needs as well. Church is essential when it comes to that."
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