Supreme Court Gives Win To California Churches Over COVID Restrictions

The Supreme Court handed a victory to churches in California that have been barred from holding in-person services due to the coronavirus pandemic. Forty-one counties in the state are currently under the most restrictive regulations, which ban all indoor religious services. In the other counties, churches may host in-person worship services with a limited number of people in attendance.

Ninety-four percent of the population lives in counties where indoor religious services are prohibited.

Harvest Rock Church argued that "indoor worship services are completely prohibited for 99.1% of Californians" while "food packing and processing, laundromats, and warehouses have no capacity limits, liquor and grocery stores have a 50% capacity, and big-box centers, shopping malls, laundromats, and destination centers have a 25% capacity."

The Supreme Court vacated a District Court ruling against Harvest Rock Church and ordered the court to reconsider the challenge based on the Supreme Court's recent ruling that rejected restrictions placed on religious institutions in New York.

"The September 2 order of the United States District Court for the Central District of California is vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit with instructions to remand to the District Court for further consideration in light of Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo," the Supreme Court said.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and the Jewish group Agudath Israel of America, issuing an injunction against the restrictions, which limited the number of people who could attend worship services.

"Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten," the court's unsigned majority opinion said. "The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty."

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