Supreme Court upholds California’s limits on churches amid pandemic

May 30 (UPI) — The Supreme Court has ruled against a church’s challenge to California’s executive order limiting church crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The ruling Friday upholds California state guidelines for places of worship to limit attendance to 25 percent of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees. It also supports Gov. Gavin Newsom‘s executive order to obey state public health directives to curb the spread of COVID-19.

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Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberal justices in the 5-4 opinion against South Bay United Pentecostal Church, which sought to prohibit the restrictions.

“Our Constitution principally entrusts ‘the safety and health of the people’ to the politically accountable officials of the States ‘to guard and protect,” Roberts wrote, citing Jacobson vs. Massachusetts, which upheld state’s authority to enforce laws requiring immunization.

Church lawyers argued that the First Amendment’s protection of the “free exercise” of religion exempted them from being shut down or limiting their attendance. They also argued it was unfair considering other businesses such grocery stores remained open.

However, Roberts said the restrictions did not violate the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment and there were similar restrictions on other large gatherings.

Grocery stores remain open, he said, because people didn’t “remain in close proximity for extended periods,” in them as they would in churches.

The four other conservative justices dissented.

“California’s latest safety guidelines discriminate against places of worship in favor of comparable secular businesses,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the dissent. “Such discrimination violates the First Amendment.”

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