The court once again reversed an executive order by California Governor Gavin Newsom, who had limited seating capacity for places of worship. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down coronavirus public health mandates related to religious activities.
The new guidance the state Department of Public Health modified its guidelines in response to the recent court rulings. It now states that while “Location and capacity limits on places of worship are not mandatory, but are strongly recommended.”
“California treats other comparable secular activities more favorably,” explains the Supreme, which cites that barber shops, retail stores, movie theaters, restaurants and personal care services are permitted and may congregate members of more than three households under the California governor’s COVID regulations.
The ruling is in favor of two residents of Santa Clara County in the San Francisco Bay Area who want to hold small Bible study sessions in their homes and had been prevented from doing so.
The court order is also a victory for religious organizations that had complained of discriminatory treatment in the coronavirus restrictions.
Republican attorney Harmeet Kaur Dhillon, founder of the Center for American Freedom welcomed the court action.
“For over a year, the state of California has targeted the faith community for discriminatory treatment depriving them of their fundamental right to worship,” Dhillon said. “Governor Newsom should have done this a long time ago,” she concluded.
State restrictions on indoor worship to prevent the spread of COVID-19 remained in place through most of the pandemic. However, some churches fought them on the grounds that they violated constitutional freedom of religious expression.
Judicial blows in California and New York
This is not the first time that the U.S. judiciary has reversed a decision by Democratic governors for infringing on religious freedom. In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan struck down Andrew Cuomo’s measure setting capacity limits on places of worship.
Back in February, the high court had also told California that it couldn’t ban indoor religious services because of the coronavirus pandemic, although it upholds a ban on indoor singing.
The lawsuits against both governors made the case that the restrictions violate constitutional protections for the free exercise of religion.