The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday delivered a blow to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s pandemic-related ban on indoor religious services, siding with a church that defied the policy and challenged it as unconstitutional religious discrimination.
The decision followed a similar action by the justices on Nov. 25 that backed Christian and Jewish houses of worship that challenged New York state restrictions in coronavirus hot spots.
The justices, with no noted dissents, set aside a lower court ruling that rejected a challenge to Newsom’s policy by Harvest Rock Church Inc, which has several campuses in the state, and Harvest International Ministries Inc, an association of churches. Both are based in Pasadena, a city in Los Angeles County.
The justices directed the lower court to reconsider the case in light of their ruling in the New York case.
Archbishop Cordileone’s response Thursday afternoon, Dec. 3:
|Today in Harvest Rock Church, et al. v Newsom, the Supreme Court remanded a California District Court ruling that had permitted California’s restrictions on worship to continue in order for the court to reconsider its decision in light of the SCOTUS ruling on November 25 in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo.|
In that decision, the Supreme Court clearly ruled governments may not favor secular indoor activities, such as indoor retail, over worship. The same restrictions must, at a minimum, be applied to both.
Catholics and other responsible faith communities should not be lumped in with a few irresponsible bad actors. This is not done with anyone else, and it should not be done with people of faith. And the timing now is critical, lest Christians be deprived of celebrating the Christmas holy days in their churches, even if with limited numbers and other reasonable safety precautions. The time is overdue for our civil officials to work with us and other churches on worshiping safely. Catholics need the Body and Blood of Christ this Christmas, in California as everywhere else. And they have every right to access it.
Experience shows that when responsible actors are irresponsibly discriminated against, people tend to congregate in less regulated settings, such as private homes.
Worship is not less important than shopping for shoes; it is certainly more important to people’s spiritual and psychological health; it is a natural and Constitutional right, and we Catholics have shown for months that we can worship safely–with masks, social distancing, ventilation, and sanitation.
We prefer not to go to court to win this fight. We prefer, and have been working hard for a long time to achieve, resolving this impasse with mutual understanding and respect. That would save a lot of valuable time and resources. It would also help to build up goodwill.
Let my people worship.”