U.S. Supreme Court sides with California in lawsuit challenging state’s COVID-19 restrictions on churches


By Dan McCaleb - The Center Square



(The Center Square) — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Friday that the state of California can restrict attendance at religious services to 25 percent of capacity.

In a 5-4 decision, the court rejected a challenge to the capacity restrictions brought the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts cast the deciding vote, joining the court’s four liberal justices to rule in favor of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus.

“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,” Roberts wrote. “Our Constitution principally entrusts ‘the safety and the health of the people’ to the politically accountable officials of the states ‘to guard and protect.’”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote that California’s restrictions “discriminate against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses. Such discrimination violates the 1st Amendment.”

Churches around the country have filed lawsuits against state orders restricting gathers of larger numbers of people at places of worship.

Attorneys for the the South Bay United Pentecostal Church argued that limiting the number of people who can attend services violates their constitutional rights of religious freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment.

Plaintiffs attorney Charles LiMandri, serving as special counsel to the Thomas More Society, said in a statement that the fight is not over.

“The disappointing ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court was a close 5-4 vote, based on the very high standards required for obtaining an emergency injunction on appeal,” LiMandri said. “This case is far from over. Our next appellate brief is due in the Ninth Circuit on June 5. If it is necessary to go back up to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Ninth Circuit rules again, we will benefit from a much more favorable standard. We are hopeful that fact would also lead to a better result for religious liberty.”

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By Dan McCaleb

The Center Square

​Dan McCaleb is the executive editor of The Center Square. He welcomes your comments. Contact Dan at dmccaleb@thecentersquare.com.Reach

​Dan McCaleb is the executive editor of The Center Square. He welcomes your comments. Contact Dan at dmccaleb@thecentersquare.com.Reach