Supreme Court Favors California Churches and Allows Indoor Worship
The Supreme Court ruled against Governor Newsom and the State of California and will allow indoor worship services Feb. 5. Although the ban was lifted, some restrictions remain in place including no singing or chanting and a 25% attendance capacity.
Both churches narrowly won their cases on Friday night in a 5-4 vote. They sued over coronavirus-related regulations impeding on their freedom to worship.
The state originally banned indoor worship and singing due to the transmission of the virus via water droplets.
Though it was a win for religious freedom advocates, some of the justices wrote their own opinions. In a concurring opinion Chief John Roberts said they “owe significant defense” to state officials who best understand the transmission of COVID-19 in their communities.
“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.
However, the newest Justice, Amy Coney Barrett, wrote on behalf of herself and Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She said it was not clear if the singing ban was being applied “across the board.” Barrett said if folks could sing in Hollywood but not in churches, California’s regulations “cannot be viewed as neutral”.
The justices said the churches who sued can re-appeal to a lower court if they gather more evidence regarding the state’s ban on singing.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent on behalf of herself, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. They each would have upheld California state law which denied indoor worship services. Each of the justices felt this ruling is a “special exception” and it will only worsen the pandemic.
This ruling illuminates the differences among the justices after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Before her passing, the court voted on similar cases twice and in both rulings favored the COVID-19 restrictions put in place by both California and Nevada.