With a ruling that requires Governor Newsom to change his restrictions, churches are reopening this week.
Late on Feb. 5, The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of allowing churches and other religious places of worship to open. However, the ban on indoor singing and chanting remains.
Churches opened for a brief period in June before cases spiked, forcing them to shut down again. Eventually, churches began to rebel, and South Bay United Pentecostal Church began a lawsuit, eventually getting up through the court system to the Supreme Court on the argument it violated the free exercise clause.
The Supreme Court moved quickly on this case as they were acting on emergency restrictions from both South Bay United Pentecostal Church and Harvest Rock Church.
Now that the case has ruled for church meetings indoors, Governor Gavin Newsom changed the guidelines allowing indoor activity at 25% capacity unless they are in areas with moderate to minimum spread then they can meet at 50% capacity, according to the Seattle Times.
“We are thrilled and excited to go back to church without legal threat of fines or arrest,” said Bishop Arthur Hodges in a television interview broadcast on Fox 5.
Even with this victory for churches, the agreeing judges had different views on what should be done in regards to regulations.
“When a State so obviously targets religion for differential treatment, our job becomes that much clearer. As the Ninth Circuit recognized, regulations like these violate the Amendment unless the State can show they are the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government interest,” wrote Justice Gorush.
He believed that a double standard was happening as shopping malls were allowed to be open, but not churches.
“Nor, again, does California explain why the narrower options it thinks adequate in many secular settings— such as social distancing requirements, masks, cleaning, plexiglass barriers, and the like—cannot suffice here. Especially when those measures are in routine use in religious services across the country today,” writes Justice Gorush.
Justice Roberts agreed that the laws were a violation of the free exercise clause and believed the laws misunderstood Christianity and their interests.
However, Justice Roberts concurred with Gorush on how the decision should be made in regards to science, “As I explained the last time the Court considered this evolving case, federal courts owe significant deference to politically accountable officials with the ‘background, competence, and expertise to assess public health.’”
Justice Barrett with whom Justice Kavanaugh joins in agreement, were unsure if singing should be allowed.
“The applicants bore the burden of establishing their entitlement to relief from the singing ban. In my view, they did not carry that burden—at least not on this record. As the case comes to us, it remains unclear whether the singing ban applies across the board,” wrote Justice Barrett.
Finally, in the dissenting opinion, Justice Kagan believed that the other justices were completely ignoring the testimony of doctors and that science does not yield to judicial edict.
Justice Kagan also saw no bias towards religious and secular activities, writing, “The majority does so even though the State’s policies treat worship just as favorably as secular activities (including political assemblies) that, according to medical evidence, pose the same risk of COVID transmission.”
Not all places of worship are planning on reopening. Grace Cathedral believed that lifting the ban was unwise as churches were ignoring science.
The court has taken action in light of the 5-4 decision in New York in regards to enforcing certain limits on attendance in churches and synagogues. After this, the Supreme Court decided to re-examine the California church.
Charles LiMandri, an attorney for South Bay United Pentecostal Church, said in a statement that he and his clients were “heartened by this order” and “thank the high court for upholding religious liberty.”
It appears that the story is continuing to develop as Harvest Church in Pasadena, Calif. plans to continue until their rights are realized.