Why John Roberts’ Decision to Uphold California’s Restrictions on Religious Services is Wrong

Federal judge John Roberts, President Bush’s first nominee to the Supreme Court, won Senate confirmation on Thursday as the 17th chief justice of the United States. Roberts is seen during the third day of his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington September 14, 2005. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

Chief Justice John Roberts is wrong. In casting the deciding vote to uphold California’s onerous restrictions on religious worship services, the Chief Justice stated that he thought that California’s restrictions “appear consistent with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.”  He argues that similar or more severe restrictions apply to “comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, … spectator sports and theatrical performances.”  This is a crucial, unconstitutional misjudgment. None of these other institutions are mentioned in the First Amendment. Religious exercise is, and, it’s mentioned first among our nation’s freedoms. 

Roberts’ decision is contrary to over two centuries of legal precedent, which has recognized that churches and religious gatherings have special protections and the state must show “a compelling interest” in order to limit it.  Such an interest is absent here given the safety measures that the petitioning church had put in place.

Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court’s conservative block, made up of Associate Justices Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, and Gorsuch, dissented vigorously. Justice Kavanaugh, writing for the minority, explained that the California executive order “discriminates against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses. Such discrimination violates the First Amendment.”

Kavanaugh argued the state cannot “assume the worse when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work or go about the rest of their daily lives in permitted social settings.”

The Supreme Court’s narrow decision certainly seems to contradict President Trump’s May 22nd Executive Order designating “houses of worship — churches, synagogues, and mosques — as essential services” and calling on governors to “do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now. . . .”

Clearly this legal struggle is not over, and the very close nature of the Supreme Court’s liberal block victory in this case means it will continue to be strenuously debated. What the Chief Justice has catastrophically missed is the special and unique status that religious free exercise is granted in the Constitution.

Tens of thousands of Christians across the comparatively free parts of America had their first live, in-person, Christian corporate worship experience in many weeks this past Sunday. Many of them have since confessed that while they had missed the experience of corporate worship, they were stunned by the pure joy they felt from the very core of their beings as they shared their worship experience once again with their Christian brothers and sisters.

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SOURCE: Christian Post