The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday sided with California in a case challenging that state’s coronavirus-related restrictions on church gatherings, according to Politico.
Justices ruled 5-4 against the South Bay United Pentecostal Church, which had argued the order banning large groups from gathering in houses of worship was a violation of their constitutional rights. The decision came down largely along ideological lines, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the liberal wing as the deciding vote.
“Subject to reasonable disagreement”
“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,” Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.
As long as those standards are met, he determined that such orders “should not be subject to second-guessing by an ‘unelected federal judiciary,’ which lacks the background, competence, and expertise to assess public health and is not accountable to the people.”
This appeal came on the heels of President Donald Trump’s call last week for the nation’s governors “to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now.”
Although some critics believed the lockdown unfairly targeted churches, Roberts found that it did not, noting that comparable “or more severe restrictions” are also in place for concerts, theaters, and other activities that typically involve large gatherings.
“And the Order exempts or treats more leniently only dissimilar activities, such as operating grocery stores, banks, and laundromats, in which people neither congregate in large groups nor remain in close proximity for extended periods,” Roberts wrote.
“Violates the First Amendment”
The court’s conservative wing interpreted the facts of the case differently, though, as Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a dissenting opinion.
“I would grant the Church’s requested temporary injunction because California’s latest safety guidelines discriminate against places of worship in favor of comparable secular businesses,” he claimed. “Such discrimination violates the First Amendment.”
Kavanaugh continued by asserting that California had not presented “a compelling justification” for its more lenient restrictions on gatherings in stores, restaurants, factories, and office buildings.
While Roberts was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, he has sided with liberals in some cases. Among the most notable examples was his 2012 vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.
Some are sure to appreciate his independent streak, though many worshipers in California who are anxious to gather under the same roof again will not likely be among them.