Supreme Court blocks challenge to California law limiting attendance at church

May 30, 2020 • 7:30 am

This ruling is a surprise to me, but the ruling was narrow. The Supreme Court has actually made a ruling favoring secular over religious interests, saying that restrictions on Church attendance in California were legal.  Click on the screenshot to see the New York Times article:

From the Times:

The Supreme Court on Friday turned away a request from a church in California to block enforcement of state restrictions on attendance at religious services.

The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four-member liberal wing to form a majority.

“Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in an opinion concurring in the unsigned ruling.

“Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time,” the chief justice wrote. “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.”

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh noted dissents.

. . .The case was brought by the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, Calif., which said Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, had lost sight of the special status of religion in the constitutional structure.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is a national tragedy,” lawyers for the church wrote in their Supreme Court brief, “but it would be equally tragic if the federal judiciary allowed the ‘fog of war’ to act as an excuse for violating fundamental constitutional rights.”

U.S. courts have a history of giving secular interests precedence over religious ones when the religious ones endanger either public health or the health of children. In most states, parents cannot withhold “real” medical care from their children if they practice faith-healing. And, of course, the “right to worship” surely must stop when that practice could endanger those believers who go out in public and could infect people not in their church.

Roberts has become more liberal then I thought since he’s become Chief Justice. In 2012 he pronounced Obama’s Affordable Care act constitutional, and I am pleased he voted with the liberals this time.


28 thoughts on “Supreme Court blocks challenge to California law limiting attendance at church

  1. Maybe Roberts is beginning to see the writing on the wall. Come November this court is going to be in big trouble. Handling legal matters with a bible is finally getting to him.

  2. Did you note that it appears that none of the “volunteers” in the photograph are wearing masks?

  3. The Conservatives’ position is not even coherent.

    PS: It appears that WordPress no longer saves login information and we need to enter it each time commenting.

    1. Kavanaugh’s dissent didn’t even try to establish that churches were somehow equivalent to grocery stores, etc., that had fewer or no restrictions – he just asserted they were equivalent. Roberts caught him on that, too. Slate has a decent article on it.

  4. It is outrageous that the dissenting opinion is written using language to reinforce the “war” fantasy being sold by the president.

    At first I thought the dissenting opinion was simply a complaint by the victims of religion.

    Robert’s piece is clear.

    … still no “subscribe” button.

      1. Yeah, the only complaint in Kavanaugh’s dissent is that churches are being held to stricter standards than other businesses such as “factories, offices, supermarkets, restaurants, retail
        stores, pharmacies, shopping malls, pet grooming shops,
        bookstores, florists, hair salons, and” (I’m sure he couldn’t help himself from adding) “cannabis dispensaries.”

        1. I’m somehow convinced -well, just a hunch- that Justice Kavanaugh will turn out to be much less ‘conservative’ than his promotors thought. He has ‘tenure’ now, and only an impeachment will unseat him. He will not expose himself to impeachment.
          Beers for Brett!

    1. For a long time it was Kennedy, now, unfortunately, it’s Roberts. Every once in a while he’ll write something that looks reasonable, like this, but nine times out of ten it’s just more right-wing blather.

  5. I find it insane that four justices, no matter how conservative, would vote against the governmental duty to protect public health. We had better win the Senate in 2020.

  6. In anticipation of a Trump defeat, some Republicans are urging older conservative judges to step down so that younger ones can be appointed. In addition, if Trump is defeated, we can expect an orgy of judicial appointments during the lame duck period. This means that it will become more and more difficult for the increasingly secular America to prevail against the religious in judicial matters. This will result in an even greater fracturing of the social fabric. Among the many bad things Trump will leave behind (with the eager help of Mitch McConnell) is the state of the judiciary, a legacy that will last for decades.

    1. Mitch McConnell will want to have an orgy of new judicial confirmations during the lame-duck session. But I’m not so sure Donald Trump will give a good goddamn at that point. He’ll probably be too preoccupied pouting and with litigating whatever court challenge he mounts against the election results to pay much attention to anything congress wants.

      Trump doesn’t really give a damn about the issues that drive the fervor to pack the courts with Federalist-Society-approved right-wing judges, such as abortion and gun-control. (Recall that, as a private citizen, before he decided to seek the Republican presidential nomination, Trump had made statements expressing views on these issues opposed to those espoused by his reactionary base.)

      Appointing such judges was simply Trump’s end of the Faustian bargain he struck to secure the evangelical vote. Once this election is over, there will be nothing for Trump to gain by maintaining this bargain. And Donald Trump has quite the lifetime record of reneging on bargains once they no longer serve his interests.

      1. I do hope you’re right.

        Not that it directly affects me (in NZ) but, y’know, even after tRump’s depredations your country will still have a significant influence on world trends, probably as much as, say, Guatemala. 😉


  7. More evidence of Chief Justice John Roberts’s slide into the swing-vote slot formerly held by Anthony Kennedy, and, before him, by Sandra Day O’Connor.

    1. Roberts is a “small c” conservative and does not want “his court” going off in radical directions. But if tRump gets to appoint another justice, it’s game over.

      1. Roberts also carries the weight of being chief justice: he’s well aware that the decisions made during his tenure will go down in history as those of “the Roberts Court.” Accordingly, he’s constrained by institutional concerns to a greater degree than his fellow justices.

        Such concerns tend to have a moderating influence. Even Roberts’s immediate predecessor, William Rehnquist, who was a go-it-alone, hell-for-leather rightwinger in his early years as an associate justice, became somewhat more centrist once he ascended to the role of chief justice.

  8. Our local (in Calif.) D.A. posted an open letter to places of worship in our county to say that, given the legal uncertainty (this was before the SCOTUS ruling yesterday), he was NOT going to enforce our state guidelines. Our local atheist group will most likely send our D.A. a letter asking/reminding him to enforce those guidelines, now that the legal issues are settled.

  9. One might think that the Pentecostals would note the tragedies that have already befallen many of their outposts (that I recall from a list I posted in a comment here a couple mos ago when COVID was just starting), and not even file this suit, but then that would assume that Pentecostals take note of actual evidence.

  10. I was intrigued by this sentence, quoted by Jerry, as it provides a window into the thinking of those churches that are trying to reopen (or refused ever to close):

    “… the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, Calif., which said Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, had lost sight of the special status of religion in the constitutional structure.”

    Since the whole point of the US Constitution, if I understand correctly, is that religion has *no* special status in it, I’d be interested to know what the South Bay church (or whoever wrote those words on their behalf) thinks they’re referring to. Anyone have any ideas?

    1. They’re referring to their imaginary concept of the Constitution. Just like their imaginary concept of what the Bible actually says.


  11. Thank goodness. Like Joe Biden, every time the current court opens its mouth I think: “Oh hell, what fresh horror today I wonder?”
    (for different reasons, with Uncle Joe it is just that he’ll say something embarrassing, of course I’ll vote for him). Good to see the court in this case but watch for the birth control/religious case soon. And hold your breath! D.A., atty at law, NYC

  12. With quite a few judges a “right wing” judge becomes less reliably so on the S.C. Don’t expect that with Gorsich or Cavanaugh though. Ideologues through and through.
    D.A., NYC

  13. The Supreme Court has actually made a ruling favoring secular over religious interests

    I wouldn’t frame it in those terms. It’s everybody’s interests against religion induced stupidity. Religious interests in the UK, for example, have taken the sensible route for the most part. The C of E closed its churches before the government forced them too.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *