Supreme Court lifts California's ban on indoor worship services but keeps restrictions on limited occupancy

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The Supreme Court ruled to block California’s coronavirus-related ban on indoor worship services on Friday night. 

However, the court maintained measures such as the ban on singing and chanting and limitations on the number of worshipers to 25% capacity. 

The ruling provided descriptions of what different justices were willing to allow in the case, which was brought forth by South Bay United Pentecostal Church.

California created a tier system that determined the severity of coronavirus outbreaks in each county. Those in the top tier were banned from indoor worship service, CNN reported. 

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas said they would have granted all of the church’s requests, including lifting the ban on singing and chanting and the 25% capacity restriction on indoor gatherings. 

“Even if a full congregation singing hymns is too risky, California does not explain why even a single masked cantor cannot lead worship behind a mask and a plexiglass shield. Or why even a lone muezzin may not sing the call to prayer from a remote location inside a mosque as worshippers file in,” Gorsuch wrote.

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Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor dissented and said they sided with the state. 

“I am sure that, in deciding this case, every Justice carefully examined the briefs and read the decisions below. But I cannot imagine that any of us delved into the scientific research on how COVID spreads, or studied the strategies for containing it,” Kagan said in the dissent. “So it is alarming that the Court second-guesses the judgments of expert officials, and displaces their conclusions with its own. In the worst public health crisis in a century, this foray into armchair epidemiology cannot end well.”

Most surprisingly, new Justice Amy Coney Barrett took a more middle-ground position than her conservative counterparts. 

Barrett was sworn onto the Court in October and was former President Donald Trump’s third Supreme Court appointment. She is a conservative Catholic and her nomination prompted a lot of speculation on how she would rule on the court. 

“The applicants bore the burden of establishing their entitlement to relief from the singing ban. In my view, they did not carry that burden—at least not on this record,” she wrote in a brief opinion alongside Justice Brett Kavanaugh, another Trump appointee. 

The ruling follows a very similar one given last November where the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 barring New York state from enforcing some of the restrictions they had on attendance at churches and synagogues, the Associated Press reported. Barrett voted with the majority in this case. 

 

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