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Public Health Emergency: Legal Preparedness and Response

South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom


South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom (U.S. Supreme Court, February 5, 2021): The Supreme Court blocked California’s COVID-19 order banning all indoor religious services, while leaving undisturbed categorical bans on singing/chanting amid services and occupancy limitations. The State prohibited indoor religious services because services involve (1) large numbers of people mixing from different households; (2) in close physical proximity; (3) for extended time periods; (4) with singing. The Court’s brief order did not explicate its reasoning fully. Justice Gorsuch issued a statement explaining that California had “target[ed] religion for differential treatment” because most retail or other business operations could proceed indoors under occupancy limitations, while worship services could not. Justice Kagan, in dissent, argued that the Court’s treatment of retail/business operations like churches ignores neutrality, treats “unlike cases . . . equivalently,” and ultimately “injects uncertainty into an area where uncertainty has human costs.” Read the full opinion here.

View all cases in the Judicial Trends in Public Health – February 16, 2021.

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