SCOTUS Opinion: Court Declines to Suspend COVID-19 Restrictions on Church Worship in California

The Governor of California issued an executive order to limit the spread of COVID-19, which in part limited attendance at places of worship to 25% of building capacity or 100 people, whichever is less. Several churches challenged that order, and asked the courts to enter an injunction staying its effect during the course of the litigation due to its First Amendment implications. On Friday, May 29, in a late-issued order, the Court denied the injunction request on a 5-4 vote.

Chief Justice Roberts filed a concurrence, stating that he believed the order proscribed similar restrictions to secular gatherings, and was more lenient only towards “dissimilar activities” like grocery stores. Thus, in his view, the order was likely “consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” and no injunction should issue. Justice Kavanaugh, joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, filed a dissent, arguing that the secular exemptions from the 25% occupancy cap were discriminatory to religion, and thus violated the First Amendment, warranting an injunction. Justice Alito also dissented, but filed no opinion.

A link to the order in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom is here: