The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a challenge to California’s limitations on church gatherings amid the coronavirus, dismissing an appeal brought by a San Diego-area church that argued the public health order violated its religious freedom. In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that California could continue to enforce its rules to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. In the emergency appeal with the Supreme Court, lawyers for the South Bay United Pentecostal Church sought an order that would allow them to host church service on Sunday—contesting the “stay-at-home” regulations that prevented churches, and other gathering places from operating.
“In contrast, there is no percentage limitation for manufacturing and warehousing facilities — simply a social distancing requirement,” the church’s lawyers said, arguing the order infringes on the church's First Amendment rights. “California has never explained why letting large numbers of people sit together indoors for eight hours at a factory or a school, but not for one hour worshiping, provides a ‘real or substantial’ benefit to curbing the COVID-19 pandemic.” This week, however, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued new guidelines that will allow places of worship to reopen with no more than 100 persons present at a time, or occupancy of less than 25 percent.