Colorado, New Jersey worshipers win US Supreme Court fight over Covid-19 shutdowns as lower courts ordered to re-examine rules
Tuesday's ruling threw out lower federal-court rulings upholding state orders that had shut down religious gatherings in the states. Lower courts were ordered to re-examine restrictions on indoor religious services ordered by Colorado Governor Jared Polis and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy in light of the high court's November 26 ruling that blocked New York from imposing Covid-19 capacity limits on houses of worship.
The latest victory for religious liberties also follows a December 3 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled against California Governor Gavin Newsom's restrictions on religious services.
Judges ruled Tuesday on a case brought by High Plains Harvest Church in rural northern Colorado, as well as a lawsuit brought by a New Jersey Catholic priest and a rabbi who joined together to allege that Murphy violated the Constitution by restricting attendance at religious services while allowing for larger crowds at casinos, stores and protests.Also on rt.com US Supreme Court sides with California church that challenged ‘draconian and unconscionable’ Covid lockdown
The three liberal justices who dissented – Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer – said the Colorado case was moot because the state had lifted its capacity limits on religious services, and there is no reason to believe such restrictions will be reimposed. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made a similar contention after last month's ruling, saying the Catholic churches and Orthodox Jewish synagogues involved in the case were no longer affected by his order because their areas were no longer under red- and orange-zone Covid-19 conditions.
But the recent string of rulings is making clearer the limits on the latitude of states in restricting religious gatherings. The New York case was still at the center of public attention when Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf toughened Covid-19 restrictions in his state last week. While other indoor gatherings of more than 10 people were banned, houses of worship were "specifically excluded from the limitations."
Wolf and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam asked faith leaders to find alternative methods for worship, but they stopped short of trying to impose mandatory shutdowns or limits on indoor services.
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