Supreme Court orders California to allow indoor church services

The Supreme Court limited California's restrictions on indoor worship services to curb COVID-19 in an order Friday. File Photo by Stefani Reynolds/UPI

Feb. 6 (UPI) — The Supreme Court has ordered California to allow indoor church services despite restrictions of such services in counties with widespread COVID-19.

At issue was California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy which ordered indoor worship services discontinued in counties in the “widespread” purple Tier 1, identified as having more than seven daily new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people.

A 600-seat congregation near San Diego, the South Bay Pentecostal Church, filed an emergency request calling on the high court to block enforcement of the prohibition on indoor worship services in the purple tier, along with other limits on attendance, singing and chanting during indoor service amid the pandemic. Harvest Rock Church, which seats 1,250 in its Pasadena facility, filed a similar challenge.

Late Friday, the Supreme Court issued an order blocking enforcement of the state’s restrictions on indoor worship services in the purple tier.

However, the court’s 6-3 majority denied the churches’ request to block the state’s 25% capacity limit on indoor worship service amid the pandemic. The order also said the state may also continue to prohibit singing and chanting during indoor services.

The state has permitted outdoor and online services regardless of tier.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion that the “federal courts owe significant deference” to public health officials, but there were limits.

“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,” Roberts wrote.

The court’s three liberal justices dissented.

“Justices of this court are not scientists. Nor do we know much about public health policy. Yet today the court displaces the judgments of experts about how to respond to a raging pandemic,” Justices Elena Kagan, wrote in the dissent with Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor joining.

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