The Supreme Court issued a rare late-night ruling on Friday against a California church challenging the state’s stay-at-home order.
In a 5-4 vote, Chief Justice John Roberts broke from other conservative justices to rule in favor of the state. The case was brought by the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, Calif., which said Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomBiden hails Newsom win as validation on pandemic policies The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Simone Biles, gymnastics stars slam FBI during Nassar testimony Coronavirus most important issue among California voters, exit polling shows MORE’s (D) stay-at-home order ignored religious freedoms.
Roberts noted in an opinion concurring in the unsigned ruling that the restrictions in place apply to nonreligious gatherings and therefore don’t pose a threat to religious liberties.
“Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,” Roberts wrote.
“Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time,” he wrote.
The court’s remaining conservative justices — Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasSupreme Court returning to courtroom for arguments The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Supreme Court could undermine freedom of the press MORE, Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Biden rips 'extreme' new Texas abortion law Six-week abortion ban goes into effect in Texas MORE, Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchCan Biden defend his vaccine mandate? The 'nondelegation doctrine' may be the challenge The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Supreme Court could undermine freedom of the press MORE and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSenators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Why isn't Harris leading the charge against the Texas abortion law? Cori Bush introduces legislation aimed at expanding access to emergency rental assistance funds MORE — filed dissenting opinions.
“California’s 25% occupancy cap on religious worship services indisputably discriminates against religion, and such discrimination violates the First Amendment,” Kavanaugh wrote, referring to an order Newsom made on Monday, after the lawsuit was filed, allowing churches to operate at 25 percent capacity.
Public health officials have said that spending prolonged periods of time indoors with others, as one does during church services or certain sporting events, increases the risk of contracting the virus.
The ruling came the same day the court denied Illinois churches’ request to remove the state's coronavirus restrictions after Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) lifted the measures voluntarily.
Under the new guidelines issued by the state's department of health this week, places of worship are advised to hold drive-thru and remote services, but doing so is not mandated.
The decision effectively made the suit from Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries moot.