But it threw out a district court’s order upholding the restrictions in the state, which like many others is seeing a spike in coronavirus cases. The state’s ICU beds are 85 percent full, and Newsom said Thursday that expanding the state’s restrictions will be necessary.
The challenge was filed by the Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, which has churches across the state.
It said that Newsom (D) has violated religious rights with restrictions that fall more heavily on churches and other houses of worship than secular establishments.
“Food packing and processing, laundromats, and warehouses have no capacity limits, liquor and grocery stores have a 50% capacity, and big box centers, shopping malls, laundromats, and destination centers have a 25% capacity,” said a brief filed by the conservative Liberty Counsel, which is representing the church.
By contrast, 99 percent of Californians live in zones in which no indoor religious services are allowed, even when other activities, such as distributing food or providing lodging, are allowed in the same facilities.
California contended that it is a simple fact that houses of worship present a greater risk for spreading the coronavirus.
“Indoor ‘congregate’ activities, in which many people gather together in close proximity for extended periods of time, pose an especially great risk of transmission because of the combination of the number of people, the nature of the activity, and the location,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra responded in a brief.
“The risk is particularly high when such congregate activities involve singing or chanting, especially when they take place in buildings with limited ventilation,” he added.
Still, Newsom has been stung by accusations of hypocrisy. After urging Californians to stay away even from family members for Thanksgiving, he attended a dinner with friends at the haute Napa Valley restaurant The French Laundry.
Even though indoor dining was allowed at the time, Newsom apologized. The church included a photo of the dinner party in its brief to the court.
“The governor continues to impose draconian and unconscionable prohibitions on the daily life of all Californians that even the governor disregards at his own whim,” the brief said.
In May, the Supreme Court, on a 5-to-4 vote, upheld earlier restrictions imposed by Newsom. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was in the majority along with the court’s liberals, and the chief justice said courts should defer to local officials better situated to decide the proper response to the pandemic.
But the dynamic on the Supreme Court has changed, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett chosen to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
On Nov. 25, a new 5-to-4 majority voted to block restrictions on synagogues and churches in New York imposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), saying they likely violated religious rights.
“Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” said the unsigned opinion granting a stay of the New York orders. “The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”