Religious liberty lawsuits protesting extended coronavirus-prompted lockdowns are making their way to the Supreme Court, with mixed results.
The Supreme Court said “no” on Friday to a California church seeking to challenge the state’s orders limiting religious gatherings to 25 percent of normal capacity or less than 100 congregants.
The ruling fell nearly along ideological lines, with Cheif Justice John Roberts acting as the tie-breaker, siding with liberal SCOTUS judges against the complaint brought by South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, CA.
The Chula Vista church argued that the state’s restrictions violate constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, and sought a reversal of the orders in time for Sunday services.
Roberts wrote in a brief opinion that the state’s restrictions “appear consistent” with First Amendment protections. Conservative-leaning Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, and Brett M. Kavanaugh disagreed with Roberts’ assessment.
“The church and its congregants simply want to be treated equally to comparable secular businesses,” wrote Justice Kavanaugh.“California already trusts its residents and any number of businesses to adhere to proper social distancing and hygiene practices.”
Citing the fact that California has allowed people to gather at non-essential businesses such as restaurants, hair salons, and cannabis dispensaries, Kavanaugh continued that California’s order “discriminates against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses. Such discrimination violates the First Amendment.”
Roberts also swiped at the Conservative judges’ dissent, saying that “the notion that it is ‘indisputably clear’ that the Government’s limitations are unconstitutional seems quite improbable.”
Numerous Democrat governors have specifically target houses of worship in their coronavirus lockdown orders, ignoring religious liberty protections enshrined in the constitution.
Donald Trump threw his support behind churches across the nation last week, urging that “Governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now — for this weekend.”
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential” but not churches,” he said. “It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”