Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Supreme Court's liberal judges Friday to reject a California church's appeal to block restrictions on public gatherings. Per the New York Times, the 5-4 ruling found that the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, Calif., as well as other houses of worship, didn't have to follow any more onerous state shutdown mandates than "comparable secular gatherings ... where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time," such as movie viewings, sports events, and concerts. Places that may be under less-severe restrictions, like supermarkets and banks, involve situations where "people neither congregate in large groups nor remain in close proximity for extended periods." The court's decision aligned with that of a San Francisco appeals court that found houses of worship haven't been unfairly singled out.
"Although California's guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment," the court's decision, written by Roberts, notes. In its legal brief, the church—which says it usually has between 200 and 300 people at services, per Fox News—calls the pandemic a "national tragedy," but notes "it would be equally tragic if the federal judiciary allowed the 'fog of war' to act as an excuse for violating fundamental constitutional rights." The dissent to the decision was penned by Justice Brett Kavanaugh. "California already trusts its residents and any number of businesses to adhere to proper social distancing and hygiene practices," he writes. "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.'" (Read more US Supreme Court stories.)