“Finally, Governor Gavin Newsom’s total ban on worship has come to an end,” said Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver. “A pandemic is no excuse for violating the Constitution. Until today, California imposed the most severe restrictions on places of worship. Not anymore”.
The justices, in a 6-3 decision in a pair of orders late Friday, issued an injunction against California Gov. Gavin Newsom, prohibiting his administration from enforcing its total ban on indoor worship. The lawsuits were brought by two churches – South Bay United Pentecostal Church and Harvest Rock Church – although the ruling impacts all houses of worship in the state.
Following the orders, Newsom’s office on Saturday revamped its restrictions to limit churches in areas of major outbreaks to 25 percent capacity. Churches in areas with only moderate or minor outbreaks are limited to 50 percent, the Associated Press reported.
Liberty Counsel, which represented Harvest Rock Church, applauded the court’s action. California had had the nation’s “most severe restrictions” on worship, Liberty Counsel said in a statement.
The court’s conservative bloc sided with the churches: Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito and Amy Coney Barrett.
Roberts, in a concurring opinion, asserted that not allowing anyone to worship in even the “most cavernous cathedral” did not reflect “expertise or discretion” but instead “insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.”
The Constitution, he wrote, “entrusts the protection of the people’s rights to the Judiciary.”
It was not a total victory for churches, though. The court upheld the state’s ban on indoor singing and chanting, yet left open the possibility it could be challenged in court later. Barrett, in a concurring opinion joined by Kavanaugh, wrote that it remained unclear whether the ban on singing “applies across the board” to churches and everyone else. If it is discovered that churches are being singled out, she wrote, then the regulation “cannot be viewed as neutral” and can be challenged.