Monday, January 25, 2021

9th Circuit Upholds California's Temporary Ban On Indoor Worship Services

 In South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, (9th Cir., Jan. 22, 2021), the U.S. 9th Circuit court of Appeals affirmed a California federal district court's denial of a preliminary injunction to a church that objects to the state's COVID-19 ban on indoor religious services. The court describes the current restrictions:

California permits unlimited attendance at outdoor worship services and deems clergy and faith-based streaming services “essential,” but has temporarily halted all congregate indoor activities, including indoor religious services, within portions of the state currently identified by objective measures as being at high risk....

South Bay argues that the current restrictions on indoor services prohibit congregants’ Free Exercise of their theology, which requires gathering indoors.

In upholding the state's requirement, the court said in part:

Notably, in response to the State’s mountain of scientific evidence, South Bay has not pointed to anything in the record to support the notion that the lesser restriction that it seeks—100% occupancy with a reliance solely on mask-wearing, social distancing, and sanitation measures—would be effective to meet California’s compelling interest in controlling community spread. South Bay’s self-serving assertion that it has experienced no incidence of the virus among its worshipers is entirely anecdotal and undermined by evidence of outbreaks in similarly situated places of worship.

The court concluded, however, that 100- and 200-person caps for later stages of recovery are unconstitutional "because California has imposed different capacity restrictions on religious services relative to non-religious activities and sectors."