The Supreme Court ruled Friday that California cannot ban churches and other religious organizations from holding services indoors because of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision implies a significant victory for First Amendment and religious rights, although it also specified several limitations on the gatherings.

The legal wrangling between the California government and various temple and religious representatives began just weeks after the CCP virus quarantine began in 2020. Throughout the year, there was legal back-and-forth with various results for and against. 

The issue was reawakened recently when the California government ordered the suspension of all indoor worship services in counties categorized as “widespread purple,” that is, identified by detecting more than seven new cases of the CCP virus per 100,000 inhabitants per day.

Faced with the government’s new initiative to cancel the gatherings, several congregations filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court to remove the prohibitive measures. 

On Friday night, the Supreme Court issued an order blocking the enforcement of state restrictions on indoor worship services, including in counties listed as purple.

However, the high court did not strike down all of the CCP virus-related restrictions enacted for religious gatherings in California, such as capacity limits and a ban on singing, which California says are necessary for public health.

The justices said the state could limit indoor services to 25% of a building’s capacity. The judges also refused to prevent California from enforcing a ban implemented last summer on indoor singing.

The situation generated a fierce dispute among the court’s justices, which ended in a close 6-3 vote.

Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito criticized California for having “openly imposed more stringent regulations on religious institutions than on many businesses.”

Gorsuch also wrote that “California singles out religion for worse treatment than many secular activities” even though the Supreme Court recently made “it abundantly clear that edicts like California’s fail strict scrutiny and violate the Constitution.”

Judge Gorsuch was highly critical of California authorities, whom he accused of having blatant favoritism during the pandemic, making considerable efforts to protect specific for-profit industries while disregarding the needs of the religious.

On the other side and without argument, the three most liberal justices on the court, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer, sided with California as a whole.

Finally, the Court decided that California cannot prohibit the attendance of worshippers in its churches, basically because it infringes on the freedom to worship and profess one’s faith.

Other arguments were used to defend the position of believers. Such is the case of a recently published study, which assures that U.S. citizens’ mental health has collapsed during the last year of crisis, regardless of age, sex, occupation, or purchasing power, except for one group: those who regularly attend church. 

According to the results of a survey conducted by the prestigious consulting firm Gallup, Americans’ mental health is at its lowest point in the last two decades, except for religious people who maintained previous years’ levels. 

The study shows that when it comes to taking political measures affecting public health, it is not only necessary to determine the cases of contagion; those in power should develop a holistic view of the facts, analyzing and questioning multiple realities.

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