The United States Supreme Court has ruled that California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders prohibiting indoor church services may violate the Constitution’s protection of the religion. The order effectively lifts the state’s ban on indoor religious gatherings.
In a 6-3 decision, the judges approved the Friday evening appeal of the Southern San Diego Church challenging the restrictions. The ruling overturned the decisions of federal judges in San Diego and San Bernardino and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. All of these courts upheld state orders.
While granting assembly rights to worship, the Supreme Court said restricting attendance to 25% of the building’s capacity is a good thing, and further restrictions on singing and chanting could also be restricted – a sticking point with the San Diego Church.
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The Beckett Fund for Religious Freedom said California is “the only state prohibiting indoor worship” in all counties except for sparsely populated counties.
“Since the arrival of COVID-19, California has publicly imposed stricter regulations on religious institutions compared to many companies.” Judge Neil M Gorsuch wrote one of the three consensus opinions. “California fears that worship brings people together for too long. However, California does not restrict its citizens to entering and exiting other establishments; no one is forbidden from staying in malls, salons, or bus stops.”
Gorsuch joined Judges Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Junior to vote to lift all restrictions, including restrictions on attendance and singing.
Judge Amy Connie Barrett was not convinced of the limits of singing. Barrett said the churches bear the burden of “proving their right to relax the ban on singing. In my opinion, they have not borne this burden – at least not on this record,” she wrote. Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John J. Roberts Jr. wrote Friday that he cannot accept “California’s current decision that the maximum number of adherents who can safely worship in most cavernous cathedrals is zero … Respect, though broad, has limits.”
Three liberals objected in court: Judges Elena Cagan, Stephen J. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
The judges of this court are not scholars. We don’t know much about public health policy. Today, however, the court is replacing expert judgment on how to respond to a raging pandemic. “The court orders the state of California to weaken its restrictions on public gatherings with a special exception for worship services.”