In a shocking Friday night ruling, the United States Supreme Court decided in favor of California state officials who have imposed stringent restrictions on church services within the state.
In the 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, sided with the high court’s four liberal justices to defend California’s right to shut down or limit religious services in the name of limiting the transmission of coronavirus.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, and Brett M. Kavanaugh voted in opposition.
Last week, we reported that California churches had largely been given the green light to resume in-person services, but only upon meeting such requirements as mandatory masks, temperature-taking, sharply reduced attendance, limited singing, and closing off areas for children.
In his dissent, Kavanaugh pointed out that “comparable secular businesses” like supermarkets, retail stores, salons, and even marijuana dispensaries were not subject to such harsh regulations as churches.
“The church and its congregants simply want to be treated equally to comparable secular businesses,” Kavanaugh wrote. “California already trusts its residents and any number of businesses to adhere to proper social distancing and hygiene practices.”
The case was taken to the Supreme Court by the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, who said they had already planned on following strict social distancing practices but objected to the drastic reduction in attendance allowed.
“An artificial 25% or 100 person limitation on a house of worship is inconsistent with the absence of such limitations on retail establishments,” said Harmeet Dhillon, a San Francisco lawyer and CEO of the Center for American Liberty. “Simply put, Governor Newsom lacks authority to dictate to California’s faithful, how they may worship. Guidelines, suggestions, education, and support are all welcome. Secular dictates that do not apply to other categories of our daily lives, are not welcome and not constitutional.”
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