Religious liberty advocates in California are hopeful after a San Diego judge has ruled in favor of allowing strip clubs to reopen even as churches remain shuttered.
Superior Court judge Joel R. Wohlfeil ruled that the state could no longer enact policies that forbid strip clubs from "being allowed to provide live adult entertainment." Wohlfeil said that such businesses engage in legally protected speech under the First Amendment.
While the case will still be given a full hearing at the end of November, the judge's ruling is binding until that time. That means even as other institutions like churches have to remain closed to indoor services, strip clubs will be permitted to reopen.
Rather than express frustration with the decision, however, Paul Jonna, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, which represents churches in California, said the judge's order is good news for his clients.
"If you're going to accept that argument that dancing nude is protected speech that's so significant that it overcomes the government's interest in regulating its citizens with COVID-19 orders, then obviously the divine worship of God, which is expressly mentioned in the First Amendment, should be held to a higher standard," Jonna reasoned.
Jonna said it was a good sign that courts are now questioning if "the government has a legitimate interest in regulating any business or industry at this point." The key will be to find a judge who "understands the Constitution" enough to recognize the "absurdity of the current state of the law."