Supreme Court Lifts Santa Clara Ban on Indoor Religious Services

The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, as the justices begin a new term following the recent death of their colleague, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(CN) — The Supreme Court ruled Friday evening that California’s Santa Clara County can’t ban indoor worship services enacted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The justices ruled in early February that the state could not ban indoor religious services, but could enact a 25% building capacity cap and continue to prohibit singing and chanting.

In the unsigned order, the justices pointed to their earlier ruling, saying their decision was “clearly dictated” by it. The court’s three liberal justices dissented from the order.

Santa Clara County argued that its temporary ban should be allowed to continue since it barred all indoor gatherings and did not distinguish between religious services and other secular events.

“We are disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s order regarding indoor worship services,” Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said in a statement. “The Supreme Court order was issued without any analysis at all of the County’s gathering rules, which have always been neutral and applied equally to all gatherings across-the-board. 

“Indoor gatherings of all kinds remain very risky, and we continue to urge all religious institutions to carefully follow the public health recommendations to avoid spread of COVID-19 among their congregations and the broader community.”

A few California churches sued the state for enacting the ban, claiming that it unfairly held religious institutions to a different standard than more secular places such as businesses.

In a letter sent to the high court on Thursday, the county said that it would begin to allow indoor services starting on March 3 due to declining rates of infection.

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