US Supreme Court rules California county cannot ban indoor worship services during pandemic
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US Supreme Court rules California county cannot ban indoor worship services during pandemic

The US Supreme Court granted injunctive relief in an order Friday to a group of churches in Santa Clara County, California, who sought to continue holding indoor worship services in spite of COVID-19 bans.

Under the Santa Clara County guidelines, “[a] worship service is categorized by the County as a ‘gathering,’ and gatherings are prohibited. Yet the (1) same number of persons (2) at the same location (3) meeting for any length of time and, (4) for any other purpose, falls outside of what the County deems a ‘gathering.'”

In their brief, the churches argued that Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 policies would allow church members to meet at 20 percent capacity, so long as they do not worship together. The churches argued the ban is not based on a neutral law, because it specifically intends to restrict religiously-motivated practices. According to the churches’ response, “On its face, the County’s Capacity Directive targets a specific expression of faith – worship services – ‘without a secular meaning [discernible] from the language or context.'”

The churches further argued that airports, school classes, and courtroom hearings fall outside of the County’s definition of a “gathering,” but still qualify as “an event, assembly, meeting, or convening that brings together multiple people from separate households in a single space.” The county’s failure to ban these activities, the churches argued, reflected that the Coronavirus policies “obviously target[] religion for differential treatment.”

The Court granted the injunctive relief “pending disposition of the appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.”