Law & the Courts

Supreme Court Sides with Colorado Church on Religious Service Restrictions

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Molly Riley/Reuters)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled in favor of a church in Colorado, as well as a Catholic priest and a rabbi in New Jersey, who challenged coronavirus restrictions on worship services in their states.

The court issued an unsigned order reversing lower federal court rulings that declined to block the restrictions on houses of worship in Colorado and New Jersey. While the justices did not rule the restrictions were improper, the Supreme Court did order the lower courts to reexamine them.

High Plains Harvest Church, a small Christian church north of Denver, argued that the coronavirus restrictions implemented by Democratic governor Jared Polis, which limited the capacity at worship services in some areas to 25 percent or a maximum of 50 people, wrongly targeted indoor religious services, subjecting them to harsher rules than other activities such as retail shopping.

“Today in Colorado it is perfectly legal for hundreds of shoppers to pack themselves cheek by jowl into a Lowes or other big box store or patronize any one of the thousands of other retail establishments that are not subject to draconian numerical limits,” said Barry Arrington, an attorney representing the church.

The New Jersey challenge was brought by Fr. Kevin Robinson and Rabbi Yisrael A. Knopfler, who also argue that the state’s restrictions on houses of worship are unconstitutional as they target religion unfairly.

The ruling comes after the high court ruled last month in favor of New York churches and synagogues that challenged Governor Andrew Cuomo’s pandemic restrictions on worship services.

In response, Colorado informed the Supreme Court that it altered the restrictions “to remove capacity limits from all houses of worship at all times in response to this Court’s recent decisions.”

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