In a 5-4 decision issued Friday night, the court upheld the state’s right to impose limits on congregations to curb the spread of COVID-19. Judge John Roberts was again the deciding vote on Friday when the United States Supreme Court rejected an attempt by a California church to repeal state coronavirus restrictions on religious services in person.
In a 5-4 decision issued Friday night, the court upheld the state’s right to impose limits on congregations to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“Although California guidelines impose restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear to be consistent with the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause,” said Roberts, in an opinion that denied a request by the United Pentecostal Church of South Bay to the relief of the rules.
Chula Vista House of Worship and Bishop Arthur Hodges sued Governor Gavin Newsom, State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, State Public Health Officer Sonia Angell, San Diego County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten, the director Diego County Emergency Services Commissioner Helen Robbins-Meyer and San Diego County Sheriff William Gore on an order limiting congregations to 25% capacity or 100 attendees, whichever is less. The plaintiffs told the court that their services typically attract 200 to 300 congregants.
Worship services and nonessential retail trade stopped for more than two months in California, which has recorded nearly 107,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and more than 4,000 deaths.
During the lawsuit process through the lower courts, the state issued guidelines earlier this week that allowed for a limited reopening, but that did not satisfy the plaintiffs, who considered the eased restrictions to remain unconstitutional.
Rejecting that challenge, Roberts wrote that the Constitution generally gives state leaders a wide margin in circumstances of medical uncertainty. In particular, the Chief Justice discovered that Newsom’s order was to limit not only religious services, but also various types of activities “where large groups of people gather in close proximity for long periods of time.”
“The notion that it is” indisputably clear “that government limitations are unconstitutional seems quite unlikely,” wrote Roberts.
The four trusted conservative court magistrates: Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas, disagreed, and Kavanaugh said the guidelines violate the First Amendment because they “discriminate against places of worship and favor comparable secular businesses.”
While Roberts compared the church to sports events, concerts, and other large secular gatherings limited by the order, Kavanaugh compared the church to spaces that were excluded from the restrictions, such as supermarkets. The new justice of the court argued that, in this sense, the limits indicate the religious services.
“The state also has considerable space to draw lines, especially in an emergency,” he said in dissent. “But as is relevant here, the Constitution imposes a key restriction on that line drawing: the state cannot discriminate against religion.”
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs said that “thousands of churches across the country and in California plan to reopen before May 31, 2020, the Christian holy day of Pentecost, defying any state executive order, leading to widespread civil unrest.” , alleging that his lawsuit therefore “refers to an issue of general national importance whose resolution is necessary to avoid a constitutional crisis, which may occur without the guidance of this court.”
The emergency request for a relief court order went on to point out that the Newsom order issued on May 7 allowed the manufacturing and logistics facilities to be opened, which all retail stores could open for curbside pickup, and ” Individual counties could open even more after certifying to the state that certain statistical parameters were met. ” As a result, the lawsuit states that “offices, dining rooms sitting in restaurants, retail visits and schools were opened.”
It is this order that the plaintiffs refer to in their lawsuit, not about “the constitutionality of previous California executive orders issued in March that allowed‘ life-sustaining businesses to remain open. ” But they said the May 7 order “is not neutral because it imposes special charges on
Plaintiffs because of their religious practices. ”
The plaintiffs lost their offer of redress in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which they filed on May 22. Citing precedents, that court said that “where state action does not” infringe or restrict practices because of their religious motivation “and not” selectively imposes burdens only on conduct motivated by religious beliefs, “it does not violate the First Amendment.
Roberts was joined by judges Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
In another case, the court also rejected a lawsuit. of two churches in Illinois seeking to block Governor J.B. Pritzker who limits religious services to only 10 faithful. As part of Illinois ‘reopening plans, Pritzker later modified the order to allow up to 100 people in services, and the court rejected the churches’ request for relief without noticeable dissent.
California authorities have said they plan to reevaluate the reopening order in mid-June.