Supreme Court Rejects California Church’s Request to Lift Limits on Service Attendance

South Bay United Pentecostal Church in San Diego, California | Google Maps

In a late-night 5-4 decision Friday, the Supreme Court rejected a California church’s request to set aside Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recently issued public-health guidelines that allow congregations to meet in person but limits attendance to 25% of the building’s capacity, with a maximum of 100 attendees.

In the decision released just before midnight, days before Pentecost Sunday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts joined the court’s four liberal justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — in rejecting the request by South Bay United Pentecostal Church and its Senior Pastor Bishop Arthur Hodges III, and upheld the state’s rules, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Newsom announced Monday he would allow in-person worship services in California, but capped religious gatherings at 25% or no more than 100 people in attendance, irrespective of the size of the church or other contagion-related variables.

South Bay United Pentecostal Church draws 200-300 congregants.

The petition, filed on behalf of the church by legal firms Thomas More Society and LiMandri & Jonna, argued that the First Amendment’s guarantee that all Americans enjoy the fundamental right to freely exercise their religion protects churchgoers against being “singled out” to suffer “biased, discriminatory restrictions” not enforced against any other gatherings.

However, Roberts wrote, “The precise question of when restrictions on particular social activities should be lifted during the pandemic is a dynamic and fact-intensive matter subject to reasonable disagreement. Our Constitution principally entrusts ‘the safety and the health of the people’ to the politically accountable officials of the states ‘to guard and protect.’”

The chief justice added that the state’s executive order “aims to limit the spread of Covid-19, a novel severe acute respiratory illness that has killed thousands of people in California and more than 100,000 nationwide. At this time, there is no known cure, no effective treatment, and no vaccine.” Roberts added that asymptomatic carriers “may unwittingly infect others.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in dissent that the restriction, “… discriminates against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses. Such discrimination violates the First Amendment.”

Kavanaugh noted that supermarkets, restaurants, hair salons, cannabis dispensaries, and other businesses are not being subjected to the same restrictions. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joined the dissent.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Anugrah Kumar