Feb 27, 2021 - Health

Supreme Court again OKs indoor church services in California amid pandemic

Picture of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Ting Shen/Xinhua via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that five California churches in Santa Clara County are exempt from a health directive prohibiting indoor gatherings, and are now permitted to resume services indoors.

Why it matters: The late Friday action is the latest in a string of orders directing state and local governments to whittle down public-health orders intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Details: In a one-paragraph, unsigned order, the court cited an earlier decision in which it excluded religious services from statewide regulations banning most indoor gatherings.

  • The Supreme Court's three liberal judges — Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor — dissented.

Context: Santa Clara County claimed its restrictions on indoor worship remained valid because they were part of a broader ban on gatherings at religious and secular facilities, including “political events, weddings, funerals, worship services, movie showings, cardroom operations.” Other indoor operations, such as shopping malls, were allowed at 20% capacity.

  • Five churches contested that order, saying it conflicted with the Supreme Court’s ruling, but a federal appeals court in San Francisco declined to block the restriction.
  • Of note: The county said on Feb. 25 it planned to ease restrictions starting the following week due to a decline in coronavirus cases, per Bloomberg.
Go deeper