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SCOTUS Hands Down Split Decision on COVID Church Ban

Court rules California can't bar church services, but it can still ban singing, chanting
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 6, 2021 5:30 AM CST

(Newser) – The Supreme Court is telling California it can't bar indoor church services because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it can keep for now a ban on singing and chanting indoors. The high court issued orders late Friday in two cases where churches had sued over coronavirus-related restrictions in the state, per the AP. The high court said that for now, California can't ban indoor worship as it had in almost all of the state because virus cases are high. The justices said the state can cap indoor services at 25% of a building's capacity. The justices also declined to stop California from enforcing a ban put in place last summer on indoor singing and chanting. California had put the restrictions in place because the virus is more easily transmitted indoors, and singing releases tiny droplets that can carry the disease.

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The justices were acting on emergency requests to halt the restrictions from South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that California's determination "that the maximum number of adherents who can safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero—appears to reflect not expertise or discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake." The court's three liberal justices dissented, saying they would have upheld California's restrictions. Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissent for herself, Justice Stephen Breyer, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor that the court's action "risks worsening the pandemic" and that the court was "making a special exception for worship services" rather than treating them like other activities where large groups of people come together "in close proximity for extended periods of time."

(Read more US Supreme Court stories.)

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