Law & the Courts

Supreme Court Backs California Ministry on COVID Rules, Returns Case to Lower Court

The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., August 29, 2020 (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The Supreme Court sided with a California ministry against Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday in a dispute over coronavirus restrictions.

The Harvest Rock International Ministry had alleged that Newsom’s restrictions on church capacity were “draconian and unconscionable,” challenging those restrictions in a lawsuit. California attorney general Xavier Becerra stated in court papers that “temporary interference is justified by the State’s interest in limiting the transmission of COVID-19 through tailored, evidence-based policies.”

In an unsigned order on Thursday, the Supreme Court referred the case back to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, instructing judges on the appeals court to consider the case in light of a decision on religious worship in New York announced on Thanksgiving. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on November 25 that some of New York’s restrictions on indoor worship were unconstitutional.

“Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” the Court’s majority wrote in its opinion on the New York case. “The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”

However, the Court did not entirely rule out restrictions on worship. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in his opinion on the case that he did not “doubt the state’s authority to impose tailored restrictions—even very strict restrictions—on attendance at religious services and secular gatherings alike.”

The Court’s most recent decisions on religious freedom come after Senate Republicans confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the bench.

Send a tip to the news team at NR.

Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.


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