The US Supreme Court has issued injunctions in three different cases in three different circuits overturning lower court rulings which restrict religious freedom. (Update: make that four in total.)
On top of that, the County of Los Angeles has announced it will revise its public health orders to allow worship services to be conducted indoors.
Fantastic, wonderful news for your early Sunday morning reading.
(Update: Minor corrections for grammar and typos made without identify such changes. Substantive updates identified as such.)
Update: I just read the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn ruling. Wow. The sum total of all sarcasm and ridicule I have previously brought to the table regarding religious freedom pales in comparison to the scathing comments by Justices in that ruling. When I have time, I’ll recap some of the comments. Quick summary: it is past time for governors to stop intentionally ignoring and flagrantly shredding the U.S. Constitution. Oh yeah, the Governor of New York is working hard to fight the case and violate the Constitution.
US Supreme Court – Harvest Rock Church, et al. v. Newsom, Gov. of CA
In a 10 line, unsigned order SCOTUS vacated the ruling by the District Court for the Center District of California which ruled against Harvest Rock Church in their lawsuit to allow indoor worship.
Ruling can be found here.
The ruling was dated Thursday 12/3/20, which is 2 ½ weeks ago.
The court ordered the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to order the District Court to reconsider their ruling in light of Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.
12/3/20 – CBS news –Supreme Court sides with church challenging Californians Covid restrictions– Explanation of the District Court ruling is that it upheld the California restrictions on religious worship. Case was filed by Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministries.
US Supreme Court – High Plains Harvest Church v. Polis
Undated post but updated 12/15/20 or later – SCOTUS blog – High Plains Harvest Church v. Polis – On 12/15/20 SCOTUS vacated an 8/10/20 ruling by the District Court for District of Colorado. It ordered the case returned to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals with orders the case be returned to the District Court for “further consideration in light of Roman Catholic Dioceses of Brooklyn”. As everyone who pays any attention to legal issues would fully expect, Justices Kagan, Breyer, and Sotomayor dissented. Justice Roberts notably did not dissent.
US Supreme Court – Robinson, Kevin, et al. v. Murphy, Gove of NJ, et al.
On 12/15/20, SCOTUS issued same ruling as mentioned in High Plains Harvest Church just discussed. Ruling can be found here.
Court vacated a 10/2/20 ruling in the District Court for District of New Jersey. Case was ordered returned to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals with orders to return it to District Court for “further consideration in light of Roman Catholic dioceses of Brooklyn”.
At the moment, I am aware of orders that apply to the Third, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits. Wow, wow, and wow.
12/15/20 – SCOTUS Blog – Justices revive religious groups attempts to block Covid -related restrictions in Colorado, New Jersey – Article provides background on the strategy of some states, specifically to include New York and Colorado, in their effort to avoid an adverse ruling. The subject of litigation is a specific order issued by a governor. As a case works its way up the appeal process the rules will be revoked with a claim that the case is moot and therefore should be dismissed. Immediately after the case is dismissed the rules are reinstated.
What the courts are doing to counter this strategy to evade judicial review is continuing to address the then-dismissed rule and issue orders that apply to any similar rules.
Indoor worship is now allowed in Los Angeles County
12/19/20 at 5:18 PM – CBS Los Angeles/KCAL 9 – LA County Health Order To Be Modified To Allow Indoor Services For Places Of Worship – With Some Rules – Breaking story is the Los Angeles County Public Health department announced on 12/19/20 the county’s public health order will be revised to allow worship services either inside or outside. Social distancing will be required along with face coverings.
Number of people allowed inside for worship will be limited to the number that can be accommodated while each household maintain six-foot social distance.
News is so fresh that the article quotes but does not identify the Public Health department representative, does not identify when the change is going to affect, and cannot cite the new rule since it has not been issued.
12/19/20 at 10:46 PM – 10 News/KGTV – Los Angeles County change in interreligious services could impact South Bay lawsuit – By 10 o’clock in the evening, Los Angeles County issued new public health order, which can be found here.
The key sentence restoring religious freedom in the county:
“Places of Worship are permitted to offer faith-based services, or otherwise allow access for faith-based practices, indoors and outdoors, provided that strict physical distancing is followed, which requires a minimum of six feet between persons from different households. Face coverings or masks that cover both the nose and mouth must be worn at all times while on site. Places of Worship are strongly encouraged to continue to hold faith-based services outdoors to the maximum extent practicable.”
Places of worship is defined very broadly. It will include Christian churches, synagogues, mosques, Native American spiritual gatherings, and any other group which engages in
“…faith-based service or practice, or cultural ceremony…”
Based on a brief scan of the orders, there are few requirements which draw objection (I’m thinking of Grace Community Church) but the most critical issue is whether worship service can even be conducted. In those traditions, mine included, in which receiving communion is a critical component of faith, there will be conflict about the “face coverings or masks that cover both nose and mouth must be worn at all times while on site” requirement.
The county acknowledges this change is in light of Supreme Court rulings.
Overall, a radical concession by the county that the First Amendment still exists. Of course, I suppose that is not such a major concession, since if they didn’t concede quickly they would likely get slapped with an injunction from either the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court itself. I seriously doubt they would enjoy Grace Community Church being granted an injunction.