THE Supreme Court of the United States by a majority of 5:4 on Friday refused to grant an application filed by a church in California that sought to enjoin enforcement of the order issued by the Governor of California placing temporary restrictions on places of worship.
The Chief Justice Roberts, in his concurring opinion with four other Justices-Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan- forming the majority, said:
“Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time.”,
“The precise question of when restrictions on particular social activities should be lifted during the pandemic is a dynamic and fact-intensive matter subject to reasonable disagreement. Our Constitution principally entrusts “[t]he safety and the health of the people” to the politically accountable officials of the States “to guard and protect”, the majority judgment read.
The court added, “The Governor of California’s Executive Order aims to limit the spread of COVID 19, a novel severe acute respiratory illness that has killed thousands of people in California and more than 100,000 nationwide. At this time, there is no known cure, no effective treatment, and no vaccine. Because people may be infected but asymptomatic, they may unwittingly infect others”.
Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh with whom Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito and Neil M. Gorsuch agreed, dissented with the majority judgment and said California’s latest safety guidelines discriminate against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses. Such discrimination, according to dissenting judges, violated the First Amendment
“In response to the COVID–19 health crisis, California has now limited attendance at religious worship services to 25% of building capacity or 100 attendees, whichever is lower. The basic constitutional problem is that comparable secular businesses are not subject to a 25% occupancy cap, including factories, offices, supermarkets, restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies, shopping malls, pet grooming shops, bookstores, florists, hair salons, and cannabis dispensaries”, Justice Kavanaugh wrote in his dissenting opinion.
Justice Kavanaugh added, “California undoubtedly has a compelling interest in combating the spread of COVID–19 and protecting the health of its citizens. But “restrictions inexplicably applied to one group and exempted from another do little to further these goals and do much to burden religious freedom.”
“The Church and its congregants simply want to be treated equally to comparable secular businesses. California already trusts its residents and any number of businesses to adhere to proper social distancing and hygiene practices. The State cannot “assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work or go about the rest of their daily lives in permitted social settings”, the dissenting judges asserted.
Read the Judgement here: