Gov. Gavin Newsom’s severe restrictions on gatherings at houses of worship remain in doubt after the U.S. Supreme Court last week ruled against lesser restrictions in the state of New York.

The nation’s top court ruled 5-4 in favor of the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish organization. The two places of worship sued the state over New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on their capacities for indoor services in regions facing the most severe coronavirus mitigation efforts.

Under Cuomo’s order, places of worship in red zones – where the most severe Covid-19 clusters have been found – are restricted to 25 percent capacity or 10 people maximum, while orange zones are allowed 33 percent capacity or no more than 25 people.

In the unsigned opinion, the majority of justices said the state had other options than limiting houses of worship to a fixed number of people because of varying capacities. Two of the Catholic churches in one of the red zones have a capacity for at least 1,000 people, while an affected synagogue has room for 400 under normal circumstances. The court noted that in orange zones, businesses deemed “nonessential” weren’t placed under such restrictions.

“It is hard to believe that admitting more than 10 people to a 1,000-seat church or 400-seat synagogue would create a more serious health risk than the many other activities that the State allows,” the opinion read.

Newsom has banned indoor church services in much of California, restrictions that are being challenged by a number of houses of worship in the state.

Leslie Jacobs, a constitutional law expert at the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, told the Sacramento Bee that the high court’s ruling in New York doesn’t necessarily mean California’s restrictions are dismissed, but she said it could make it harder for California to defend future court challenges.

The state so far has been successful in defending in court its restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Last month, two California-based church groups with ministries across the state filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Supreme Court requesting an injunction pending appeal in their federal lawsuit against Newsom’s restrictions on houses of worship. The ministries, which allege Newsom’s executive orders violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion rights, contend that the state is discriminating against them because similar restrictions are not placed on other groups.

“The recent ‘Blueprint’ issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom reveals a clear discrimination against religious gatherings,” says Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver. Liberty Counsel is representing the two church groups. “California cannot give preferential treatment to nonreligious meetings over religious meetings. The virus does not discriminate between nonreligious and religious meetings, but Gov. Newsom does. This discrimination violates the First Amendment.”

The above comes from a Dec. 1 story in the Center Square.