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With Roberts' Vote, SCOTUS Shoots Down Challenge on Church Service Limits During Coronavirus Lockdown

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Chief Justice John Roberts proved to be a deciding vote in an emergency appeal from a church in San Diego, who argued that state law limiting its capacity on church services is a violation of their constitutional rights. Roberts sided with liberals in the 5-4 decision that rejected the challenge, saying that limiting the occupancy to 100 worshippers “appears consistent” with the First Amendment. The ruling dropped last night in amid the flurry of riots that have erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of law enforcement in Minneapolis. 


Floyd was arrested on a forged document charge but died when former Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on the back of his neck for several minutes. Floyd was handcuffed and lying on his back. He couldn’t breathe and you can hear his pleas on the ghastly video. All four officers involved in the arrest were fired, Chauvin was arrested on third-degree murder and manslaughter charges, and the FBI and the Department of Justice are investigating as well. 


I guess if you’re going to drop a ruling siding with the state on limiting churchgoing, this would be the time to do it (via Fox News):

A divided Supreme Court on Friday rejected an emergency appeal by a California church that challenged state limits on attendance at worship services that have been imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Over the dissent of the four more conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's four liberals in turning away a request from the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, California, in the San Diego area.

The church argued that limits on how many people can attend their services violate constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and had been seeking an order in time for services on Sunday. The church said it has crowds of 200 to 300 people for its services.

Roberts wrote in brief opinion that the restriction allowing churches to reopen at 25% of their capacity, with no more than 100 worshipers at a time, “appear consistent" with the First Amendment. Roberts said similar or more severe limits apply to concerts, movies and sporting events “where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in dissent that the restriction “discriminates against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses. Such discrimination violates the First Amendment.” Kavanaugh pointed to supermarkets, restaurants, hair salons, cannabis dispensaries and other businesses that are not subject to the same restrictions.


Roberts is sure to spark the ire of the conservatives again, who are increasingly feeling buyer’s remorse, given his leftward tilt on some key cases, specifically Obamacare.  

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