South Bay United Pentecostal Church in California asked the United States Supreme Court to invalidate a state ban on the size of religious gatherings of more than ten people. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
The COVID-19 pandemic gave the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court something to think about—and not just washing their hands.
In South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, a church asked the court to invalidate the State of California’s ban on religious gatherings of more than ten people. On the eve of the Supreme Court’s review of that claim, Governor Gavin Newsom expanded that limitation to 25% of a church’s occupancy or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
Four of the Justices agreed that California’s restrictions treated places of worship less favorably than comparable secular businesses.
Justice Kavanaugh, writing for Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, wondered why churches were required to cap attendance at 100 people or 25% when “factories, offices, supermarkets, restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies, shopping malls, pet grooming shops, bookstores, florists, hair salons, and cannabis dispensaries” did not.
“The Church and its congregants” Justice Kavanaugh wrote, “simply want to be treated equally to comparable secular businesses.” And, since “California already trusts its residents and any number of businesses to adhere to proper social distancing and hygiene practices,” he observed, why not churchgoers?
In the end, the case becomes something of an academic exercise, binding only on the parties to the case. Still, it’s quite concerning that only four of the nine Justices of the nation’s highest court would conclude, as Justice Kavanaugh did that California “may not discriminate against religion” even in a pandemic.
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