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Supreme Court shoots down Gov. Newsom’s ban on indoor religious services

Divided along conservative-liberal lines, with fractures of focus on the conservative side, the United States Supreme Court handed down two orders late Friday night, February 6, that shoot down Gov. Newsom’s ban on indoor religious services.

The order came in response to a request for an injunction against the ban. The request was submitted to Associate Justice Elena Kagan, who referred it to the full Court for consideration. (Each Justice is responsible for a distinct geographic area for such matters.)

The response was a partial victory for Harvest Rock Church and South Bay Pentecostal Church. Although the complete ban on indoor religious services was struck down, the restriction on capacity and against singing or chanting inside remain. Further, this is in effect only until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on the case.

The Harvest Rock Church order reads in part:

The application for injunctive relief presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is granted in part. Respondent is enjoined from enforcing the Blueprint’s Tier 1 prohibition on indoor worship services against the applicants pending disposition of the appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari, if such writ is timely sought. The application is denied with respect to the percentage capacity limitations, and the respondent is not enjoined from imposing a 25% capacity limitation on indoor worship services in Tier 1. The application is denied with respect to the prohibition on singing and chanting during indoor services.

Chief Justice John Roberts led the group in favor of injunctive relief, with Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch desiring full rather than partial injunctive relief. Associate Justice Samuel Alito would have stayed injunctive relief for 30 days to give the State of California a chance to present evidence that “nothing short of those measures will reduce the community spread of COVID–19.”

Associate Justice Kagan wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Associate Justices Stephen Breyer an Sonia Sotomayor.