California can not implement the ban on indoor worship
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court is telling California that it cannot lock indoor services due to the coronavirus pandemic, but can ban singing and singing indoors for the time being.
The Supreme Court issued orders late Friday on two cases in which churches had sued over restrictions related to coronavirus in the state. The Supreme Court said California cannot currently ban indoor worship, as it did in almost all states, because the virus count is high.
The judges said the state could limit indoor services to 25% of a building’s capacity. The judges also declined to prevent California from enforcing an indoor singing and singing ban enacted last summer. California put the restrictions in place because the virus is easier to transmit indoors, and when you sing, tiny droplets are released that can transmit the disease.
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The judges acted on urgency to lift restrictions on South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and the Harvest International Ministry, which has more than 160 churches across the state.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “federal courts owe substantial credit to politically accountable officials” when it comes to public health restrictions, but he said respect “has its limits”.
Roberts wrote that California’s determination “that the maximum number of devotees who can safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero – seems to reflect not expertise or discretion, but an insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.”
In addition to Roberts, Judge Neil Gorsuch and Judge Amy Coney Barrett also wrote to explain their views. Gorsuch and Justice Clarence Thomas stopped California from enforcing its singing ban. Barrett, the newest Justice in the court, disagreed. She wrote for herself and for Justice to Brett Kavanaugh, saying it was not clear at the time whether the singing ban would be applied “across the board”.
She wrote, “If a choir singer can sing in a Hollywood studio but not in their church, California regulations cannot be considered neutral,” which sparked a more stringent judicial review. The judges said the defending churches can bring new evidence to a lower court that the singing ban is not being applied across the board.
The court’s three liberal judges disagreed, saying they had complied with California’s restrictions. Judge Elena Kagan wrote in a dissent for herself, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor that the court’s lawsuit “poses a risk of worsening the pandemic”.
She said the court “makes a special exception for religious services” rather than treating them like other activities where large groups of people come together “in close proximity for long periods of time.” Areas of California where COVID-19 is prevalent, including most of the state, prohibits activities such as indoor dining and movies.
“I sincerely hope the Court’s intervention will not worsen the nation’s COVID crisis. But if that choice causes suffering, we won’t pay. Our marble halls are now closed to the public, and our lifetime isolates us forever from responsibility for our mistakes. This seems like a good reason not to disrupt a state’s pandemic response. Nonetheless, the court is pushing forward and insisting that science-based policies yield to court order, ”she wrote.
Charles LiMandri, an attorney for the South Bay United Pentecostal Church, said in a statement that he and his clients were “encouraged” by this order and “thanked the Supreme Court for upholding religious freedom.”
Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, who represents Harvest Rock Church, said in a statement that he and his clients “would continue to advance this case until religious freedom is fully restored.”
The court’s lawsuit follows a ruling on a New York case late last year in which Judges divided 5-4 to prevent the state from enforcing certain restrictions on visiting churches and synagogues.
Shortly thereafter, the judges asked a federal court to review California’s restrictions in light of the ruling.
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