Supreme Court blocks California bans on church services, leaves other limits unresolved
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WASHINGTON, D.C., February 8, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – The U.S. Supreme Court partially sided with California churches Friday, lifting some limits on church services imposed by Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom in the name of public health.
Breitbart reported that the court voted 6-3 to temporarily block Newsom’s ban on in-person services while a case on the merits makes its way through the lower courts. A majority of justices did not, however, vote to do the same to Newsom’s limit of church attendance to 25 percent capacity or his ban on live singing during services.
“Federal courts owe significant deference to politically accountable officials with the background, competence, and expertise to assess public health,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, while noting the extreme nature of California’s actions “appears to reflect not expertise or discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.”
Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Sameul Alito wrote that they would have granted full relief to the churches on all points, although Alito conditioned his stance on giving California 30 days to produce evidence that its measures were essential to public health.
“When a State so obviously targets religion for differential treatment, our job becomes that much clearer,” Gorsuch wrote for himself and Thomas, noting that California holds most retail establishments to a lesser standard.
Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh dissented from their most conservative colleagues on a more technical angle, with Barrett writing that while she largely agreed with Gorsuch, one of the plaintiff churches had not produced sufficient evidence that it was entitled to relief, in her view.
“California had no right to declare itself a religion-free zone,” responded Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “When every other state in the country has figured out a way to both allow worship and protect the public health, maybe you are doing it wrong. We are glad this extreme violation of our first freedom has finally come to an end.”
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), meanwhile, is circulating a petition calling bans on signing a “despicable” and “unconstitutional abuse of power.”
“At the ACLJ, we are preparing to potentially file lawsuits on behalf of numerous churches if the state won’t back down,” the group says. “These cases could quickly head to the Supreme Court. We urgently need you to take action with us now.”