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Supreme Court lifts some restrictions on California church services

The Supreme Court late Friday ruled that California can’t enforce some of its restrictions on church services, partially lifting limits put in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a 6-3 ruling, the judges held that the state can’t ban indoor worship, but it can cap indoor services at 25 percent capacity. The court also didn’t stop the state from enforcing a ban on indoor singing and chanting.

The court ruled in two cases brought against the state by churches — one by South Bay United Pentecostal Church and another by Harvest Rock Church — over restrictions there.

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California had moved to bar indoor worship services and other indoor activities such as dining and movie screenings in areas designated as "Tier 1" — which covers most of the state — due to high coronavirus numbers.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that federal courts owe “significant deference to politically accountable officials regarding public health restrictions” but added that deference “has its restrictions.”

Roberts also explained that the way the state decided 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.”

Justice Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettMcConnell, GOP slam Biden's executive order on SCOTUS Progressives give Biden's court reform panel mixed reviews Top GOP super PAC endorses Murkowski amid primary threat MORE, the court’s newest conservative justice, wrote for herself and Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughNY Times beclowns itself by normalizing court-packing 'to balance the conservative majority' Colbert mocks Gaetz after Trump denies he asked for a pardon Meghan McCain calls on Gaetz to resign MORE that she wasn’t clear on if the ban was being applied to everyone or “favors certain sectors.”

“Of course, if a chorister can sing in a Hollywood studio but not in her church, California’s regulations cannot be viewed as neutral,” Barrett wrote. “But the record is uncertain, and the decisions below unfortunately shed little light on the issue.”

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Justices Elena KaganElena KaganSupreme Court says California must allow in-home prayer meetings Progressive group ramps up pressure on Justice Breyer to retire Supreme Court sides with Google in copyright fight against Oracle MORE, Stephen BreyerStephen BreyerNY Times beclowns itself by normalizing court-packing 'to balance the conservative majority' Supreme Court says California must allow in-home prayer meetings Biden will let Breyer decide when to retire, aide says MORE and Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorSupreme Court says California must allow in-home prayer meetings Progressive group ramps up pressure on Justice Breyer to retire Supreme Court sides with Google in copyright fight against Oracle MORE all dissented from the opinion. Kagan wrote that the court’s ruling “defies our caselaw, exceeds our judicial role and risks worsening the pandemic” by making a “special exception” for worship services.

“I fervently hope that the Court’s intervention will not worsen the nation’s COVID crisis,” Kagan wrote. “But if this decision causes suffering, we will not pay.”

Daniel Lopez, a spokesperson for California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomCalifornia to spend 6M on wildfire prevention Former Trump campaign manager advising Jenner on potential California gubernatorial run Overnight Health Care: Biden says US still in 'life and death race' with virus | White House rules out involvement in 'vaccine passports' | Arkansas lawmakers override Hutchinson veto on transgender bill MORE (D), signaled that the state would move to comply with the ruling.

"While the Supreme Court enjoined the state’s restriction on indoor worship services in counties where COVID-19 is widespread, the Court left in place public health measures imposed to protect worshippers, their families, and the communities in which they live," Lopez said in a statement to The Hill. "We will continue to enforce the restrictions the Supreme Court left in place and, after reviewing the decision, we will issue revised guidelines for worship services to continue to protect the lives of Californians."

The spokesperson defended the state's efforts to combat COVID-19, saying it took "necessary steps throughout the pandemic to protect Californians from COVID-19 and prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed by the disease, particularly during the recent surge."

The ruling comes a few months after the high court ruled 5-4 to bar New York from enforcing limits on how many people can attend services due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Updated: 12 p.m.