Thursday, January 07, 2021

Massachusetts COVID Requirements For Church Services Upheld

In Delaney v. Baker, (D MA, Jan. 6, 2021), a Massachusetts federal district court rejected plaintiff's claims that COVID-19 orders imposing maximum occupancy limits and requiring a mask and social distancing at Catholic religious services, as well as more general mask requirements, violate his free exercise rights. The court held that plaintiff's claims as to restrictions at religious services should be dismissed for lack of standing:

Delaney’s ... challenge ... that his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion is infringed by the maximum occupancy limits, fails.... This injury is not concrete and particularized, nor is it actual or imminent.... The joint finding is devoid of any evidence that Delaney was ever denied access to his parish church, let alone that such a denial was due to Governor Baker’s occupancy limit....Delaney also argues that the mask mandate violates his religious beliefs and therefore his First Amendment right to the free exercise of his religion and that the social distancing guidelines for churches are an affront to the free exercise of his religion.... Setting aside, for a moment, the mask mandate outside of Delaney’s parish, the mask mandate within his parish and Delaney’s injury from the social distancing guidelines within his parish fail to allege a redressable injury.... Delaney is claiming that Governor Baker’s orders are the cause of his parish’s protocols which are infringing on the exercise of his religion.... There is no evidence, however, that the Archdiocese instituted its protocols only because of Governor Baker’s orders, and even had it done so, there is no evidence that a favorable ruling would result in redress of Delaney’s injury....

As to the more general mask requirement, the court said in part:
Governor Baker’s orders for all residents to wear masks are rationally related to the interest in stemming the spread of COVID-19 because, as the parties stipulated in the joint finding, “[i]t has been proven that the wearing of masks can slow the transmission of the spread of the coronavirus.”....
Delaney’s challenge suffers the same fate under the more deferential Jacobson standard.