A San Francisco-based law firm is suing San Bernardino County over its order that residents must cover their faces in public and its ban on in-person religious gatherings.
A letter sent by Dhillon Law Group on April 8 to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, says the order by acting Health Officer Dr. Erin Gustafson is “unconstitutional on numerous grounds.”
The law group gave the county until 5 p.m. Thursday, April 9, to rescind the order and notify the public or they will file a federal lawsuit seeking immediate “injunctive relief.”
According to Dhillon Law Group, the ban on in-person religious services violates the First Amendment.
“The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government actors from
enforcing any ‘law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof,’” says the letter signed by Harmeet K. Dhillon.
Dhillon says the order is “overbroad and chills religious and expressive activity protected by the First Amendment” and that it relies on absent and inapplicable authority and that it violates the fundamental right to travel.
Dhillon also argues the mandate to wear a mask has a “disproportionate impact upon the poor and those that cannot wear a mask for medical or other reasons.”
“The order also violates the Equal Protection Clause by mandating that all persons who
leave their places of residence must wear a face covering, disproportionately affecting indigent
residents of the county, and those that cannot wear a face covering for legitimate medical or
other reasons. Indeed, those without facial coverings cannot exercise fundamental constitutional
rights — including leaving their home for essential goods and services — while more affluent
individuals may be able to comply,” Dhillon said. “The order does not provide for the provision to purchase such face coverings for those who do not already have suitable masks and are not able to afford them.”
At a minimum, the county needs to have provisions in place to fund the purchase of the applicable masks for those who cannot afford them. It fails to provide for this, and therefore cannot rest the exercise of fundamental rights on people’s ability to afford those rights, continued the letter.
A day after Dr. Gustafson signed the order, county officials said they did not expect law enforcement to “broadly impose citations on violators. In a press release, county officials said they expect residents to use good judgment and act in the best interest of their own health and their loved ones.
County spokesman David Wert said “the county will consider what they have to say and act in the best interests of the health and safety of our residents.”