New Supreme Court Ruling on COVID-19 Case – Police Power Trumps Freedom of Religion
On Friday the U.S. Supreme Court issued a terse Order and decision denying a California church’s request for relief from the Governor’s 25% occupancy restriction on church attendance. The Court split 5-4. The Chief Justice issued the majority opinion and Justice Kavanaugh issued the dissenting opinion.
The majority’s rationale – federal courts should defer to elected political officials exercising police power:
“The precise question of when restrictions on particular social activities should be lifted during the pandemic is a dynamic and fact-intensive matter subject to reasonable disagreement. Our Constitution principally entrusts “[t]he safety and the health of the people” to the politically accountable officials of the States “to guard and protect.” Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U. S. 11, 38 (1905). When those officials “undertake[ ] to act in areas fraught with medical and scientific uncertainties,” their latitude “must be especially broad.” Marshall v. United States, 414 U. S. 417, 427 (1974). Where those broad limits are not exceeded, they should not be subject to second-guessing by an “unelected federal judiciary,” which lacks the background, competence, and expertise to assess public health and is not accountable to the people.” (Slip op. at 2).
The dissenters saw plain, simple, and unconstitutional religious discrimination:
“In response to the COVID–19 health crisis, California has now limited attendance at religious worship services to 25% of building capacity or 100 attendees, whichever is lower. The basic constitutional problem is that comparable secular businesses are not subject to a 25% occupancy cap, including factories, offices, supermarkets, restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies, shopping malls, pet grooming shops, bookstores, florists, hair salons, and cannabis dispensaries.”
How will this affect all the COVID-19 cases in the pipeline? Not sure. It would certainly bind lower federal tribunals asked the same question, but State Courts are free to provide more protection to the people. And, in New Jersey, church-goers remain locked out completely from daily or weekly services.