Justices prohibit Newsom’s indoor religious services ban, allows restrictions

A divided Supreme Court on Friday rejected California’s ban on indoor religious services, ruling that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus order violates the public’s Constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.

In the 6-3 decision, the court ruled that Californians can attend indoor religious services with several restrictions: a limit on attendance and possible restrictions on singing and chanting. The justices’ opinions were varied with Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas wanting to provide churches relief from all restrictions and the three liberal justices — Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor — opposing the appeal in support of Newsom’s order and science.

“Justices of this court are not scientists. Nor do we know much about public health policy. Yet today the court displaces the judgments of experts about how to respond to a raging pandemic,” Kagan wrote. “The court orders California to weaken its restrictions on public gatherings by making a special exception for worship services.”

On the other side, the six conservative justices found that Newsom’s order appeared to unfairly target places of worship with strict regulations.

“Since the arrival of COVID–19, California has openly imposed more stringent regulations on religious institutions than on many businesses.” Gorsuch wrote. “California worries that worship brings people together for too much time. Yet, California does not limit its citizens to running in and out of other establishments; no one is barred from lingering in shopping malls, salons, or bus terminals.”