Supreme Court Denies California Church’s Request to Fully Reopen, Chief Justice Roberts Sides With Liberals

National   Steven Ertelt   May 30, 2020   |   10:07AM    Washington, DC

The Supreme Court has issued a ruling denying a California church’s request to fully roepen and hold a normal church service with its hundreds of members attending and following normal restrictions and guidelines on mask-wearing and social distancing. Christians Americans have been growing more concerned about how churches have been limited but abortion clinics are free to operate normally, with busy waiting rooms and killing babies in abortions.

In South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the emergency request for an injunction pending appeal regarding an application filed by churches in California. The court ruled 5-4 against the South Bay United Pentecostal Church with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four liberal Justices and writing for the majority.

The church says it normally has 200-300 people attend any given service and it argued against the limitations on the number of attendees that pro-abortion California Gov. Gavin Newsom handed down. South Bay said the limitation placed on how many people can attend its services violates its constitutional rights protecting religious freedom. It requested an emergency appeal from the Supreme Court so it could hold a normal service will all members this Sunday.

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

Roberts stated that the standard for granting emergency relief while the case is still ongoing “demands a significantly higher justification than a stay, because unlike a stay, an injunction does not simply suspend judicial alteration of the status quo but grants judicial intervention that has been withheld by lower courts.” He said the legal rights at issue must be “indisputably clear.”

The four conservatives on the court disagree, apparently believing that the religious rights protected under the First Amendment can’t be abridged. Justices Kavanagh, Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch would have granted the emergency relief.

Justice Kavanagh wrote a dissent, in which Thomas and Gorsuch joined, explaining why he would grant the injunction pending appeal. He said that churches “simply want to be treated equally to comparable secular businesses.”

“The state cannot assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work or go about the rest of their daily lives in permitted social settings,” he wrote, referencing a quote from an appeals court decision in a different case.

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Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said the only good news in this ruling is that it is not a ruling on its merits, only on the emergency request to circumvent Newsom’s rules this Sunday. It also does not affect other churches.

“The denial of emergency relief for the California churches does nothing to settle the matter. It is not a ruling on the merits. The litigation will continue until the lower courts issue final rulings, at which time the Supreme Court will be able to consider one or more of these cases on the merits,” he said.

Staver said the lower courts have split decisions on the merits. There is currently a split in the Circuit Courts of Appeal with the Seventh and Ninth Circuit denying emergency relief and the Fifth and the Sixth Circuits granting emergency relief.

He added that none of these lower decisions from the federal Courts of Appeal are final. The next step in this litigation is to file a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court when a final ruling is released by one or more of these Courts of Appeal.

Staver said the high court ultimate needs to protect the First Amendment.

“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will.” Everson v. Bd. of Educ. of Ewing Tp., 330 U.S. 1, 15 (1947) (emphasis added).

Prior to arriving at the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the application for an injunction pending appeal, and the churches filed an emergency request to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court’s ruling came after President Trump declared the operation of houses of worship ‘essential’ earlier this month. He threatened executive action to allow the public to attend worship services, which would require litigation, if governors didn’t agree.

Three days later, Governor Newsom allowed churches to partially reopen, but requiring them to “limit attendance to 25 percent of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower.” Newsom removed some restrictions on houses of worship, allowing up to 25 percent occupancy, or 100 people, whichever was less.

That differs from what other governors are doing.

In a separate case filed by Liberty Counsel at the U.S. Supreme Court also requesting an emergency injunction pending appeal on behalf of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s orders restricted churches to only 10 people. Liberty Counsel filed its emergency request late Wednesday afternoon.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who is assigned over the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to handle emergency motions, ordered Gov. Pritzker to file a response by 8:00 p.m. Thursday.

Less than four hours before the deadline for Gov. J.B. Prtizker to file his response to the Supreme Court to the emergency injunction request brought by two Romanian churches, the governor unilaterally removed ALL restrictions on churches and houses of worship. The guidelines are only suggestions and contain no legally enforceable requirements whatsoever. The governor is no longer imposing his draconian 10-person limit on church services.

In the separate case out of Illinois regarding the Romanian churches, the High Court earlier on Friday wrote a short order stating, “The Illinois Department of Public Health issued new guidance on May 28. The denial is without prejudice to Applicants filing a new motion for appropriate relief if circumstances warrant.” In other words, the door is open if the circumstances change and Illinois imposes restrictions on houses of worship.