California churches scored a big win earlier this month in their fight against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 restrictions on church gatherings. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of San Bernardino and Riverside County churches that challenged the governor’s restrictions on in-person church services.
Fighting on behalf of those churches was the Center for American Liberty, a Virginia-based legal group, in conjunction with the Bay Area Dhillon Law Group. Founded in 2018 by attorney Harmeet Dhillon, the Center for American Liberty has taken on numerous cases – two of which have gone to the U.S. Supreme Court – fighting for free speech and civil liberties.
Center for American Liberty founder Harmeet Dhillon delivering the invocation in Punjabi and English at the start of the second session at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 19, 2016. (Reuters)
Gish v. Newsom was the first lawsuit filed challenging the state’s shelter-in-place orders amid the pandemic. The Center for American Liberty has risen to prominence in the last year, with dozens of lawsuits filed against the state for its COVID response that has closed businesses, churches and beaches, restricted people’s movements, and produced record-high unemployment.
The group’s current cases are tackling First and Second Amendment rights, religious liberties and school closures, among other civil liberty issues.
Givens v. Newsom was filed on behalf of plaintiffs who have argued that Newsom’s executive orders, issued in March 2020, did not exempt demonstrations, protests or other First Amendment-protected activities from enforcement.
Brach v. Newsom was filed on behalf of plaintiffs who are challenging the governor’s order barring in-classroom education in some 32 counties, a decision that affects 80% of the state’s children.
Center for American Liberty v. CHHS was filed last fall amid the California Health and Human Services Agency’s refusal to make public the data Newsom’s administration is using to consider its COVID-19 policies. State health officials have said the complex set of measurements on which they rely would confuse and potentially mislead the public if they were made available.
The Center for American Liberty says it sued the CHHS for its refusal “to produce these public records claiming the agency’s interest in nondisclosure outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure.”
“After multiple good faith attempts to remind CHHS of its duty of transparency under state law, the Center for American Liberty sued CHHS in state court,” the group said on its website.
Another high-profile civil liberties case the group is currently working on is Ngo v. Rose City Antifa. The case – which was its first – centers on the far-left group that former President Donald Trump deemed a “domestic terrorist group” and independent journalist Andy Ngo. The lawsuit accuses Antifa of threatening and assaulting Ngo for his “unfavorable coverage” of the militants.
Mark Trammell, executive director of the Center for American Liberty, told Fox News the group was created because its founders recognized that there was a “void” in the civil liberties and civil rights sphere.
“You had legacy groups in this area that have unfortunately left behind millions of Americans with little to no opportunity for quality representation,” Trammell said.
The pandemic, Trammell said, catapulted the organization from being a mere start-up to “really leading the charge to restore civil liberties.”
Though much of the group’s work has dealt with religious liberties, Trammell does not consider the Center for American Liberty a partisan organization, noting that even its founding members do not see eye to eye on every issue.
“This is about the principle of free speech and it doesn’t matter what your viewpoint is. We will represent you. Because if one person is denied the right to speak freely because of their viewpoint, that means anyone can … it’s about the principle of free speech and defending that principle zealously.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.