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NEWS & ANALYSIS

Supreme Court Rules Against CA Church Service Ban: A Win for Religious Freedom

The pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of life as we knew it, including what many people consider the most important: religion. 

In California, for example, churches were prohibited from holding indoor services even at Christmas time. 

But, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Golden State can no longer ban indoor services, according to NPR. 

In response to lawsuits brought by the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and the Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, the court said California cannot prohibit in-person services altogether, but can limit attendance to 25 percent of capacity. 

The churches argued that California violated their religious freedom with the egregious restriction on in-person worship services. Not only were in-person services put on hold, so were singing and chanting. 

Though the conservative wing of the Supreme Court prevailed, it was sharply split with conservative justices filing four separate opinions. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that federal courts owe “significant deference” to state officials when it comes to public health, but it can only go so far. 

“The State has concluded, for example, that singing indoors poses a heightened risk of transmitting COVID-19. I see no basis in this record for overriding that aspect of the state public health framework,” Roberts wrote. “At the same time, the State’s present determination – that the maximum number of adherents who can safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero – appears to reflect not expertise or discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.” 

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas argued that they would lift California’s restrictions in total. While urging that the state has a “compelling interest” in reducing the spread of COVID-19, they said California had given special treatment to “lucrative industries” such as the film industry, adding that the state had “openly imposed more stringent regulations on religious institutions than on many businesses.”

“If Hollywood may host a studio audience or film a singing competition while not a single soul may enter California’s churches, synagogues, and mosques, something has gone seriously awry,” they wrote in an opinion that was joined by Justice Samuel Alito.

On Saturday, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office released updated guidelines for indoor church services, limiting attendance in areas with substantial virus spread to 25% capacity, and in areas with moderate spread to 50% capacity. 

Newsom’s office said those measures were enforced to protect church goers from getting the virus, the Associated Press reports. 

“We will continue to enforce the restrictions the Supreme Court left in place and, after reviewing the decision, we will issue revised guidelines for worship services to continue to protect the lives of Californians,” the governor’s press secretary Daniel Lopez said in a statement. 

Churches across the state celebrated the decision. 

“You can go to your house of worship, as of now! You can go back to church, we’re excited about that,” Pastor Art Hodges of the South Bay United Pentecostal Church told KNSD-TV. 

“It at least allows us some wiggle room to operate,” he added. 

Harvest Rock’s ministry in downtown Los Angeles took to Instagram to announce the decision. 

“Bring the kiddos! We’d love to see the whole family for service tonight!” the announcement said. 

Human Events Contributor Charlie Kirk fought relentlessly for the religious freedom of all Californians, urging the state to allow in-person worship. 

Kirk joined Pastor Greg Fairrington at the Destiny Christian Church campus in Rocklin, California last November to discuss the violation of religious freedoms. 

He blasted the churches that chose to close their doors, calling it “an incredible epidemic of cowardice.” 

“I ask this question,” he said. “If a pastor hasn’t opened their church, why are you a pastor?” 

“No one is being forced to be here today,”  he said. “You come knowing the risk of the virus, knowing your own health situation. You know that there’s a chance that you might interact with someone that’s a carrier and you’re willing to take that responsibility. That’s what liberty is all about.” 

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