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Supreme Court Ruling Clears Way for Indoor Worship Services in California

Supreme Court Ruling Clears Way for Indoor Worship Services in California

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that California officials cannot bar churches from holding indoor services amid the CCP virus pandemic.

The nation’s top court issued orders in two cases, siding with churches that had protested the state banning indoor services. But the court did not agree to strike down prohibitions on singing and chanting during indoor services, and will not block California from imposing 25 percent capacity restrictions in areas deemed tier one on a scale of CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus transmission.

Justice Clarence Thomas, a George H.W. Bush appointee, and Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, would have also struck down the capacity restrictions and the prohibitions. Justice Samuel Alito, a George W. Bush appointee, would have agreed on those points but would have stayed for 30 days an injunction against the caps and prohibition to let the state demonstrate “that nothing short of those measures will reduce the community spread of COVID-19 at indoor religious gatherings.”

The case drew four different opinions from the nine-person court.

Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote that “federal courts owe significant deference to politically accountable officials with the ‘background, competence, and expertise to assess public health.'”

“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,” he added. “At the same time, 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.”

Gorsuch, with whom Thomas and Alito joined, said California “has openly imposed more stringent regulations on religious institutions than on many businesses” since the arrival of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP virus.

While California forbade any kind of indoor worship in most of the state, it allowed most retail operations to have 25 percent occupancy indoors and other businesses 50 percent or more occupancy, he added, writing: “When a state so obviously targets religion for differential treatment, our job becomes that much clearer.”

Justice Amy Barrett, joined by fellow Trump appointee Justice Brett Kavanaugh, wrote in a concurring opinion that she largely agreed with Gorsuch, but didn’t believe the court should block the prohibition on ...