Wednesday, December 23, 2020

On Remand From SCOTUS, California COVID Limits On Worship Services Again Upheld

In Harvest Rock Church, Inc. v. Newsom, (CD CA, Dec. 21, 2020), a California federal district court, in a case on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, upheld California's COVID restrictions on houses of worship. The Supreme Court had called for reconsideration in light of its recent decision in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo. The district court, distinguishing both Supreme Court and 9th Circuit cases, said in part:

The law remains that courts must first assess whether a law is “neutral or generally applicable.” Smith, 494 U.S. at 881. The Court finds that California’s Blueprint is. The Blueprint offers something the New York and Nevada Orders did not: the ability to legally congregate in unlimited numbers for worship—so long as that worship occurs outside. In so doing, the Blueprint treats religious activity better than comparable secular activity and even better than essential services. This is distinct from both the New York and Nevada restrictions and compels the conclusion that the Blueprint is neutral....

California’s Blueprint is also painstakingly tailored to address the risks of Covid-19 transmission specifically....

The First Amendment has not taken a sabbatical. Californians may still worship, attend services, pray, and otherwise exercise their religious freedoms. They just may not do so in ways that significantly increase the likelihood of transmission of a virus which has claimed more than three hundred thousand American lives in less than one year. The Constitution is not a suicide pact. The First Amendment may not be used to make it one.

Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.

UPDATE: Over the objection of Judge O'Scannlain, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Harvest Rock Church, Inc. v. Newsom, (9th Cir., Dec. 23, 2020), set a briefing schedule for the Church's motion for an injunction pending appeal that failed to grant temporary relief by Christmas.