A federal lawsuit has been filed against top California officials over the right for churches to open their doors during the coronavirus pandemic.

Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney with the religious liberty law firm Center for American Liberty, says the firm is representing three pastors and also parishioners who are demanding the right to attend services in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

“Each of these pastors,” Dhillon advises, “is offering services that comply with social distancing protocols, either through drive-in services or through family groups sitting with masks and gloves in a socially distanced way in the church itself.”

Last week, after the two counties announced crackdowns on churches, Dhillon says they made an exception for drive-in services on Easter only but promised to punish churches that kept meeting beyond last week.

One of Dhillon’s clients was ticketed with a $1,000 fine for holding a service, she says.

“So we are filing this lawsuit on behalf of the 4.3 million-plus people who live in these two counties,” Dhillon says, “who wish to have the same rights as people who are going to buy marijuana or alcohol or food in their local communities or, in some cases, get an abortion. And they’re able to do that without being ticketed or arrested.”

The lawsuit also challenges the state’s decision to name so-called “essential” businesses and punish others not on the list, which Dhillon calls an “arbitary” decision that deserves to be challenged before a judge.

The lawsuit names California’s governor and attorney general, and public officials in the counties.

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