Supreme Court responds to appeals in two states challenging restrictions on reopening churches

As states across the U.S. progress into various phases of reopening from coronavirus-related shutdowns, critics — including President Donald Trump — suggest some governors have held houses of worship to more stringent standards than certain businesses and service providers.

The backlash has resulted in multiple lawsuits, including two that were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court this week. According to The Washington Times, justices on Thursday ordered the Democratic governors of California and Illinois to respond to separate challenges against their respective plans to reopen churches.

Two Chicago-area churches challenged an Illinois order limiting gatherings to 10 people. A southern California house of worship opposed that state’s limitations on congregation sizes.

“Dragged to the steps”

According to Politico, the two states took diverging paths after the cases reached the nation’s highest court.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker backed down, dropping the legal restrictions that had been imposed on religious gatherings and replacing them with guidelines for churches to voluntarily follow. In that state, houses of worship are requested to limit gatherings to 25% of their normal capacity, or 100 people, whichever is smallest.

“The fact that [Pritzker] recently said that churches would never get above 50 people for at least 12 to 18 months, and now a few hours before he had to file with the Supreme Court he removes all restrictions, illustrates that he had no basis for the orders in the first place,” attorney Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, remarked, according to Politico. “The only thing that changed was he was dragged to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, California is imposing the same size restrictions on church gatherings — but the order is mandatory and enforceable as opposed to Illinois’ voluntary guidance.

“When the attendance restriction proves unnecessary, the State will lift or loosen it,” California Attorney General Xavier Bacerra and Solicitor General Michael Mongan wrote in their response filed with the Supreme Court, Politico reported.

“Demanding to go to church”

It remains to be seen where the justices will come down on this issue and how quickly the court will move. In any case, this week’s developments are likely to give worshippers in both states some new reason for optimism.

As large groups continue to converge in public places like stores and tourist destinations, however, Trump and others are demanding that houses of worship be just as accessible.

“These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united,” the president said last week, according to NPR. “The people are demanding to go to church and synagogue and to their mosque.”

People of faith across the country who have missed gathering together to worship have already received support from the White House. Now, they are hoping that the Supreme Court takes the next step.

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