Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Limits on Church Services

June 2, 2020 by Dan McCue
Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Limits on Church Services
Worshiping from home still being recommended as the coronavirus pandemic wanes in some communities. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – A divided Supreme Court rejected an emergency appeal by a California church challenging state limits on attendance at worship services imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberals late Friday night in turning away a request from the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, California, in the San Diego area.

The church and Bishop Arthur Hodges III were represented by the Thomas More Society, a national not-for-profit law firm, which had initially objected to California Gov. Gavin Newsom deeming churches “nonessential” and requiring them to close during the coronavirus pandemic.

After the case was submitted to the high court, Newsom pulled back, changing his ban to what the plaintiffs said was an arbitrary cap on the number of people allowed to gather at a church.


Attorney Charles LiMandri, serving as special counsel to the Thomas More Society, argued in legal briefs that limits on how many people can attend their services violate constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and had been seeking an order in time for services this past Sunday.

But a majority of the justices were unconvinced.

Roberts wrote in brief opinion that the restriction allowing churches to reopen at 25% of their capacity, with no more than 100 worshipers at a time, “appears consistent” with the First Amendment.


The chief justice also noted that similar or more severe limits apply to concerts, movies and sporting events “where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time.”

In a stinging dissent, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that the restriction upheld by the majority, “discriminates against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses. Such discrimination violates the First Amendment.”

Kavanaugh went on to point to supermarkets, restaurants, hair salons, cannabis dispensaries and other businesses that are not subject to the same restrictions.

Lower courts in California had previously turned down the churches’ requests.

The court also rejected an appeal from two churches in the Chicago area that objected to Gov. Jay Pritzker’s limit of 10 worshipers at religious services.

However, Pritzker had already modified the restrictions to allow for up to 100 people at a time before the court acted.


“The disappointing ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court was a close 5-4 vote, based on the very high standards required for obtaining an emergency injunction on appeal,” LiMandri said after the ruling was handed down.

“This case is far from over,” the attorney continued. “Our next appellate brief is due in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on June 5. If it is necessary to go back up to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Ninth Circuit rules again, we will benefit from a much more favorable standard. We are hopeful that fact would also lead to a better result for religious liberty.”

A+
a-

In The News

Health

Voting

Religion

After Supreme Court Backs Praying Coach, No Sweeping Changes

Across the ideological spectrum, there were predictions of dramatic consequences when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a... Read More

Across the ideological spectrum, there were predictions of dramatic consequences when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a public high school football coach’s right to pray on the field after games. Yet three months after the decision — and well into the football season... Read More

Catholic Hospitals' Growth Impacts Reproductive Health Care

PUTNAM, Conn. (AP) — Even as numerous Republican-governed states push for sweeping bans on abortion, there is a coinciding surge... Read More

PUTNAM, Conn. (AP) — Even as numerous Republican-governed states push for sweeping bans on abortion, there is a coinciding surge of concern in some Democratic-led states that options for reproductive health care are dwindling due to expansion of Catholic hospital networks. These are states such as... Read More

June 30, 2022
by Natalie McCormick
Panelists Urge Respect at Religious Freedom Summit

WASHINGTON — The International Religious Freedom Summit 2022 came to a close in Washington on Thursday, but not before putting... Read More

WASHINGTON — The International Religious Freedom Summit 2022 came to a close in Washington on Thursday, but not before putting a spotlight on the global religious freedom movement and highlighting examples of religious persecution around the world. The summit purports to be the largest conference in... Read More

June 27, 2022
by Dan McCue
Supreme Court Sides With High School Coach Who Prayed at 50-Yard Line

WASHINGTON —  A divided U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with a high school football coach who claimed the public... Read More

WASHINGTON —  A divided U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with a high school football coach who claimed the public school district that employed him violated his free speech and free exercise rights by barring him from praying on the field after games. The 6-3 ruling... Read More

June 21, 2022
by Dan McCue
Supreme Court Strikes Down Maine Policy Barring Tuition Aid for Religious Schools

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a longstanding education policy in Maine that made K-12 schools with... Read More

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a longstanding education policy in Maine that made K-12 schools with religious instruction ineligible for taxpayer-backed tuition aid. Writing for the majority in the 6-3 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts held the state’s so-called “nonsectarian” requirement for... Read More

April 26, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Supreme Court Gives Another Chance to Coach Who Prayed After Games

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s conservative majority seemed to favor a high school coach who claimed a constitutional right to... Read More

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s conservative majority seemed to favor a high school coach who claimed a constitutional right to pray on the 50-yard line after football games during oral arguments Monday. His school district administrators in Bremerton, Washington, disagreed. They told him his public prayers... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top