SCOTUS Blocks California’s Covid-19 Ban on Indoor Religious Services

Chief Justice John Roberts says the policy reflects “insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.”

by Jacob Sullum

The Supreme Court on Friday night issued an injunction against California’s pandemic-inspired ban on indoor activities in houses of worship, suggesting that a Chula Vista church was likely to prevail in claiming that the rule violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom. Although “federal courts owe significant deference to politically accountable officials with the “‘background, competence, and expertise to assess public health,'” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a concurring statement, “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.”

California restricts social and economic activity based on county-level COVID-19 data. In Tier 1 counties, a category that currently includes most of the state, houses of worship were not allowed to hold indoor services at all, regardless of their capacity or the precautions they took. In Tier 2 counties, indoor religious gatherings are limited to 25 percent of capacity.

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