Late Friday, the Supreme Court told California that they are not allowed to ban indoor church services due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to CBS News.
The high court issued orders, stating that while California cannot ban indoor worship, they could cap indoor services to 25% of the building capacity. The court also declined to prohibit the state from enforcing singing bans and restrictions.
The Justices were acting on the requests from South Bay Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, a Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church, and Harvest International Ministry, which has 150+ churches throughout the state, to halt the restrictions imposed on them.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that when it comes to public health, “federal courts owe significant deference to politically accountable officials,” but that deference “has its limits.” He further when on to say that the determination by the government officials of California “that the maximum number of adherents who can safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero–appears to reflect not expertise not discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation of consideration of the interests at stake.”
Justice Neil Gorsuch, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Amy Coney Barrett also went on to explain their views. Gorsuch and Thomas wanted to prohibit the state from enforcing its restrictions on singing; however, Barrett disagreed, pointing out that it was unclear if the restrictions placed on singing was applied “across the board.” She wrote, “if a chorister can sing in a Hollywood studio but not in her church, California’s regulations cannot be viewed as neutral.”
The high court said that churches could submit their concerns about singing restrictions to the lower court if they believed the rules were not being generally applied.
Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor dissented, claiming the court’s decision “risks worsening the pandemic” and was “making a special exception for worship services.”
The high court’s decision is a win for churches and individuals’ first amendment right to religious freedom. Charles LiMandri, an attorney for South Bay United Pentecostal Church, stated that his clients “thank the high court for upholding religious liberty.”
Mat Staver, who represents Harvest Rock Church, stated that he and his clients were not finished fighting this legal battle. They would “continue to press this case until religious freedom is totally restored.”