SAN FRANCISCO—The United States Supreme Court ruled that California religious services are permitted to hold their services indoors, but they can only do so at 25 percent capacity.
The South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, and Harvest International Ministry, requested the Supreme Court to stop the COVID-19 restrictions implemented by Governor of California, Gavin Newsom.
Special Counsel Charles LiMandri, the attorney representing the South Bay United Pentecostal Church, said in a statement:
“We are heartened by this order from the United States Supreme Court allowing South Bay to gather for worship this weekend while our case against Governor Newsom continues.”
LiMandri said that Governor Newsom implemented COVID-19 rules that “demonstrated a flagrant disregard for California’s citizens and their deeply and sincerely held religious beliefs. His so-called ‘reopening plan’ is structured on the same discriminatory principles as those of New York’s Governor Cuomo, which were soundly denounced by the Supreme Court in their Thanksgiving Eve decision in Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo.”
“For decades, the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that an ‘emergency does not increase granted power,’ and they have specifically come down against excessive gubernatorial overreach during the current pandemic,” LiMandri continued. “It is time for the United States Constitution to be honored in the State of California and we thank the high court for upholding religious liberty and acting on South Bay’s behalf.”
Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented, “We have held time and again that the First Amendment demands ‘neutrality’ in actions affecting religion… California’s response to the COVID pandemic satisfies that neutrality rule by regulating worship services the same as other activities ‘where large groups of people [come together] in close proximity for extended periods of time.'”
Kagan continued, “California’s choices make good sense. The State is desperately trying to slow the spread of a deadly disease. [But] the Court will not let California fight COVID as it thinks appropriate. The Court has decided that the State must exempt worship services from the strictest aspect of its regulation of public gatherings.”
“I fervently hope that the Court’s intervention will not worsen the Nation’s COVID crisis. But if this decision causes suffering, we will not pay. Our marble halls are now closed to the public, and our life tenure forever insulates us from responsibility for our errors. That would seem a good reason to avoid disrupting a State’s pandemic response. But the Court forges ahead regardless, insisting that science-based policy yield to judicial edict,” said the Supreme Court Justices in their dissent.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote that he agreed to partially grant the injunction relief, noting “The State has concluded, for example, that singing indoors poses a heightened risk of transmitting COVID–19. I see no basis in this record for overriding that aspect of the state public health framework.”
“At the same time,” Roberts said, “the State’s present determination—that the maximum number of adherents who can safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero—appears to reflect not expertise or discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.”
Roberts wrote that the federal courts should respect the findings of health officials, but “Deference, though broad, has its limits.”
Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh said they agree with the injunctive relief, but “The applicants bore the burden of establishing their entitlement to relief from the singing ban. In my view, they did not carry that burden—at least not on this record.”
They went on to say that if someone in Hollywood could sing in a studio, churches can sing in church, “But the record is uncertain, and the decisions below, unfortunately, shed little light on the issue…However, the applicants remain free to show that the singing ban is not generally applicable and to advance their claim accordingly.”
Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito said that California has unfairly imposed strict COVID regulations on religious services more than they have where businesses are concerned adding, “If Hollywood may host a studio audience or film a singing competition while not a single soul may enter California’s churches, synagogues, and mosques, something has gone seriously awry.”
Liberty Counsel, who represents Harvest Rock Church, wrote in a statement:
“This case is not over since Gov. Newsom continues to discriminate against places of worship. We will not rest until all of California’s discriminatory schemes are removed.”