December 4, 2020
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday sided against California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions on indoor religious services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Supreme Court tossed out a decision from a Central District of California court that upheld Newsom’s constraints on houses of worship.
“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 stated, according to Fox News.
The justices, with no noted dissents, vacated the District Court ruling against the Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, which has several campuses and more than 160 churches across California. The Harvest Rock Church initially filed a lawsuit against the state in July when restrictions were implemented following a surge in coronavirus cases. The restrictions banned indoor singing and chanting activities.
The Supreme Court referenced its recent 5-4 ruling against restrictions on prayer services in New York. The Nov. 25 ruling that said New York could not enforce limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in coronavirus hot spots, which upset Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Democratic governor of New York then accused the Supreme Court justices of politicizing COVID-19.
California currently has a color-coded tier program that imposes certain restrictions in each county based on the number of COVID-19 cases. If the county has what the state considers “widespread” coronavirus cases, then “many non-essential indoor business operations are closed.” In lesser tiers of the system, “some indoor business operations are open with modifications.”
The church claims they are protected under the First Amendment to practice their religion, adding that the Democratic governor’s order is illegal because it restrains the size of religious gatherings, but other secular activities do not face the same restrictions.
“For the governor, COVID-19 restrictions are apparently optional and penalty free,” lawyers for the church argued. “But for Churches or anyone worshipping in their own home with someone who does not live there, COVID-19 restrictions are mandatory and enforced via criminal penalties.”
Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver issued a statement, “The handwriting is now on the wall. The final days of Governor Gavin Newsom’s ‘color-coded edicts’ banning worship are numbered and coming to an end. It is past time to end the unconstitutional restrictions on places of worship.”