Supreme Court rejects California county’s continued ban on indoor worship

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a California county’s continued ban on indoor worship services due to the coronavirus pandemic, drawing the praise of a local bishop.

“I join all Catholics and people of faith in Santa Clara County in expressing our satisfaction in tonight’s U.S. Supreme Court decision,” said Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose, in Feb. 26 statement.

“Banning indoor worship and yet allowing people to gather at airports, personal services establishments, and retail shopping is unconstitutional—and the Supreme Court has said so several times.”

The court ruled by a 6-3 vote on Feb. 26 that Santa Clara County must allow indoor worship services up to 20% capacity effective immediately. The decision affects all parishes, missions and chapels in the Diocese of San Jose.

Cantú said parishes in the Diocese of San Jose will continue to follow all masking, social distancing, and sanitizing protocols. The dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass will still be in effect, and parishes will continue to offer outdoor and livestream Masses for vulnerable parishioners.

The court lifted California’s ban on indoor religious services in a Feb. 5 unsigned order. The order said the total ban on indoor worship was unconstitutional, and the state of California may limit indoor capacity to 25% of normal.

Santa Clara County ignored the Feb. 5 injunction, and said indoor worship would continue to be banned until further notice. The county claimed its rules to mitigate coronavirus spread were “fundamentally different” from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order because they treated all indoor gatherings similarly.

The Feb. 26 decision concerned a challenge brought by Gateway City Church and The Spectrum Church in San Jose; The Home Church and Orchard Community Church in Campbell; and Trinity Bible Church in Morgan Hill. The five churches had sued California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The Diocese of San Jose worked with Becket Law to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the case