Supreme Court Orders California to Review State Rules Banning Indoor Church Services

The Supreme Court told California judges on Thursday to take another hard look at state rules that ban most indoor worship services.

A week ago, the justices in a 5-4 decision lifted tight limits on churches and synagogues in neighborhoods of New York City where the virus was spreading. The court said those restrictions violated the 1st Amendment’s protection for the free exercise of religion.

Rather than issue a separate decision responding to a religious-liberty challenge to California’s restrictions, the high court issued a brief, unsigned order on Thursday telling federal judges in the Los Angeles area to reconsider Gov. Gavin Newsom’s even tighter restrictions on worship services in all of the population centers of California.

Florida-based lawyers for the Harvest Rock Churches in California said the governor’s restrictions for “Tier 1″ mean that “indoor worship services are completely prohibited for 99.1% of Californians.”

While the court’s order appears to have no immediate legal impact, it suggests the state’s ban on indoor services is likely to fall.

In late May, the high court had rejected a religious-liberty challenge to Newsom’s earlier restrictions, which limited indoor church gatherings to 100 people. Then, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. cast a deciding vote and said judges should be wary of second-guessing state and local officials who are trying to restrain the pandemic.

But since then, the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her replacement by Justice Amy Coney Barrett has shifted the majority. And the court now appears ready to strike down state restrictions on worship services that are more severe than the rules affecting retailers, offices and factories.

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SOURCE: LA Times, David G. Savage

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