Churches can reopen indoors

Harvest Rock Church at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena. Photo by Bobak Ha’Eri via Creative Commons (CC BY 3.0)

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a major blow to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive authority when it knocked down California’s ban on indoor worship, ruling that the governor’s pandemic restrictions unfairly targeted churches in violation of the First Amendment.

The 6-3 ruling issued late Friday prompted Newsom’s administration to release new guidelines Saturday permitting places of worship to hold indoor services at 25% capacity in purple- or red-tier counties and at 50% capacity in orange- or yellow-tier counties. The Supreme Court left intact the state’s prohibition on indoor singing and chanting, though Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church, one of the plaintiffs, plans to petition for the right to sing indoors. In another wrinkle, Santa Clara County said it will continue to ban indoor worship because its health orders are different than the state’s.

Although some California religious institutions plan to continue holding online services for the time being, others opened their doors for Sunday services.

The ruling is likely to embolden other groups fighting Newsom in court who argue they, too, are being singled out. Among them:

  • Let Them Play CA. The group sued Newsom for banning high school sports but allowing college and professional sports teams to compete.
  • The California Fitness Alliance. The group on Friday questioned why Newsom “continues to bend the rules subjectively” by allowing one-on-one personal training indoors, but not indoor gym workouts.
  • The California Craft Brewers Association. The group is suing Newsom for “arbitrary” rules that allow wine tasting rooms to serve wine by itself but force brewpubs to serve food with beer.

 

Newsom offered his perspective on reopening at a Wednesday press conference.

  • Newsom: “We want to do it safely and a lot of great data has been provided by the same groups that are suing us. If I was concerned about lawsuits, I would have collapsed a year ago. We receive dozens of them every week.”

CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher is tracking all those pandemic suits — 67 and counting.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics. 

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