The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected South Bay United Pentecostal Church's emergency suit that challenged the state's limits on in-person worship services imposed to stifle the spread of coronavirus.
In a 5-4 decision, the divided panel determined that the restriction allowing churches to open at 25% capacity or with no more than 100 worshipers at one time "appear consistent" with the First Amendment.
Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, who sided with the court's liberal justices, said there are reasons that religious services should be treated differently than other activities:
"Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time," Roberts wrote. And the Order exempts or treats more leniently only dissimilar activities, such as operating grocery stores, banks, and laundromats, in which people neither congregate in large groups nor remain in close proximity for extended periods."
Roberts also said it is not the role of the judges to overrule the decisions of health experts and elected officials who are acting in good faith:
"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," Roberts wrote.