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.