Churches across the U.S. won a victory to have indoor services.
Based on the protection of religious liberty guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a church cannot be forced into lockdown or forced to hold outside services only…something that is happening in about 20 states.
It’s not a complete victory.
But it’s getting closer.
Let me explain. Here are 7 things every American should know:
1. What happened?
The U.S. Supreme Court just issued an “emergency relief” that suspended California’s ban on indoor worship services.
In most states, indoor church services have been going on during the pandemic – some since as far back as April 2020.
2. What didn’t happen yet?
The order is disappointing because it gave only partial relief.
Instead of completely opening indoor church services without restriction, the court agreed to a 25%-of-capacity limitation.
Second, it allowed states to continue to ban singing in services unless churches provide new evidence to the court.
3. How did this come about?
The church lockdowns and restrictions have been targeted in pro-socialist states such as California (the worst), New York, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maine, Oregon, New Jersey, Connecticut, Nevada and Washington.
But that began to change in December of 2020 when the Supreme Court ruled against religious discrimination.
The Supreme Court ruling in a New York case laid the foundation for opening all churches to indoor services.
In a 5-4 split ruling, the Supreme Court said that New York – a church lockdown state – could not enforce limits on attendance at churches and synagogues.
The religious freedom case was won by one vote – Amy Coney Barrett – with Chief Justice Roberts siding with the court’s judicial activists.
This was still a big victory for churches, Christians, people of all faiths….and defenders of the U.S. Constitution.
4. Not all 5 of the prevailing justices agreed with the final ruling.
Justices Thomas, Gorsuch and Alito wanted to apply stronger constitutional protection and open the churches… and worship… and grant broader relief.
Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh were open to more protection – but wanted more evidence of how churches would protect the health of worshippers.
Chief Justice Roberts – who dissented in the New York case that overruled Governor Cuomo’s restrictions, agreed with the judicial activists that the court should defer to politicians and health bureaucrats, but said that California had gone too far.
The three judicial activists who voted against religious freedom were Justices Kagan, Breyer, and Sotomayor.
Judicial activists believe in making law from the bench. Strict constructionists simply interpret the Constitution.
5. What the strict constructionist justices said:
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote:
“Since the arrival of COVID-19, California has openly imposed more stringent regulations on religious institutions than on many businesses. The states’ spreadsheet summarizing its pandemic rules even assigns places of worship their own row.”
Gorsuch also said: “Meanwhile, the state allows most retail operations to proceed indoors with 25% occupancy, and other businesses to operate at 50 percent occupancy or more.
“When a state so obviously targets religion for differential treatment, our job becomes that much clearer. As the Ninth Circuit recognized, regulations like these violate the First Amendment unless the state can show they are the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government interest.”
Gorsuch is referring to the “strict scrutiny” doctrine that government can only impose restrictions on the exercise of a constitutionally protected activity by demonstrating beyond doubt that it is doing so in the least restrictive manner and that such an approach is the only way to achieve an end of compelling public interest.
“Of course we are not scientists, but neither may we abandon the field when government officials, with experts in tow, seek to infringe a constitutionally protected liberty,” he said.
With regard to worship, Gorsuch said:
“On further inspection, the singing ban may not be what it first appears. It seems California’s powerful entertainment industry has won an exemption. So, once more, we appear to have a state playing favorites during a pandemic, expending considerable effort to protect lucrative industries (casinos in Nevada; movie studios in California) while denying similar largesse to its faithful…
“Even if a full congregation singing hymns is too risky, California does not explain why even a single masked cantor cannot lead worship behind a mask and a plexiglass shield. Or why even a lone muezzin may not sing the call to prayer from a remote location inside a mosque as worshippers file in.”
Finally, the justice said:
“Government actors have been moving the goalposts on pandemic-related sacrifices for months, adopting new benchmarks that always seem to put restoration of liberty just around the corner.
“As this crisis enters its second year – and hovers over a second Lent, a second Passover, and a second Ramadan – it is too late for the state to defend extreme measures with claims of temporary exigency, if it ever could.
“Drafting narrowly tailored regulations can be difficult. But if Hollywood may host a studio audience or film a singing competition while not a single soul may enter California’s churches, synagogues, and mosques, something has gone seriously awry.”
6. What the judicial activists said:
The judicial activists did not care about the First Amendment rights of the churches or protection of religious freedom.
Here is what Justice Kagan said:
“Justices of this court are not scientists. Nor do we know much about public health policy. Yet today the court displaces the judgments of experts about how to respond to a raging pandemic. The court orders California to weaken its restrictions on public gatherings by making a special exception for worship services.”
7. The result of this ruling for churches.
This ruling overthrew lower court rulings against churches.
This should help churches win all court cases going forward – for example, Pastor Ken Graves of Calvary Chapel Maine, Pastor Mike McClure of Calvary Chapel San Jose and probably 100 other cases going on right now.
It’s a big step toward protecting our First Amendment constitutional rights.
But more must be done.
The court needs to fully defend the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protection of religious freedom.
The constitution has no clause that suspends freedom of worship and assembly if there is a “health emergency.”
What do you think? Email me at [email protected].