South Bay Pentecostal Church and its pastor, Bishop Art Hodges III, filed a civil rights lawsuit on May 11 in San Diego federal court, challenging Governor Gavin Newsom’s series of stay-at-home orders that have banned religious services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bishop Arthur Hodges III is Senior Pastor of South Bay Pentecostal Church, a diverse Christian community in Chula Vista. Every Sunday, the church holds three to five worship services, where congregants “come together with one accord” to pray and worship. Along with worship services, the church ministers to the faithful by performing baptisms, funerals, weddings, and other religious ceremonies.

Read the Complaint

To stem the spread of the coronavirus, Newsom on March 19 signed an executive order mandating the state’s 40 million residents to remain in their homes unless they were classified as essential workers. The stay-at-home order prohibits places of worship from holding worship services and religious ceremonies.

On Friday, May 8, Governor Newsom announced new coronavirus safeguards and protocols for retail stores and workplaces eligible to reopen today and in the weeks ahead. Under the plan, in-restaurant dining, office buildings, and shopping malls will be allowed to reopen. Three days later, the Governor declared that 70% of businesses in the state are open for operations, subject to social distancing guidelines.

But the plan continues to shutter religious establishments with no timetable for reopening.

The lawsuit alleges that the Governor’s stay-at-home orders and reopening plan violate the plaintiffs’ rights to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment and their equal protection and due process rights. The lawsuit also challenges related orders issued by the County of San Diego that forbid in-person religious services and communal worship. Violating the orders would subject the plaintiffs to fines and criminal punishment.

Case: South Bay United Pentecostal Church, et al. v. Gavin Newsom, et al., Case No. 3:20-cv-00865-AJB-MDD,

Court: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California

Status: Active

Date filed: May 11, 2020

Role: Strategic operations support; counsel: Law Offices of LiMandri & Jonna LLP, Thomas More Society, and the Dhillon Law Group.