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Third Supreme Court ruling allows larger numbers in houses of worship

John Burger - published on 12/16/20

A small church in Colorado challenged state's 25% capacity/50 person limit.

Yet another church has had its right to worship upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a dispute with civil authorities.

On Tuesday the high court reversed lower court rulings that upheld Colorado state restrictions on attendance at churches in areas of high risk of COVID-19 infections, CNBC reported.

High Plains Harvest Church of Ault, Colorado, sought to block the restrictions, which limited attendance at some churches in high-risk areas to 25% of their normal occupancy, with an upper limit of 50 people. The church argued that the rules unlawfully targeted religion. 

It’s the third time the Supreme Court ruled against restrictions imposed on places of worship. In November, the court ruled in favor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and a Jewish group against New York State restrictions. In early December, the bench ordered California courts to block stringent restrictions on houses of worship. 

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a priest and a rabbi are challenging state policy in court, saying their small congregations are penalized more than necessary by a rule limiting  houses of worship to the lesser of 25% capacity or 150 people, according to USA Today.

“Religious gatherings … are still being treated unequally relative to numerous comparable secular activities, including attending school, working at a meatpacking plant, getting a facial, shopping at Costco, playing contact sports, casino gambling, and mass celebrations after a presidential election,” they said in court papers.

And late last week, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit against D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser in a case involving a 50-person cap at services, even if the church is very large and can hold thousands of people. 

Barry Arrington, an attorney for the church in Colorado commented that it is “perfectly legal for hundreds of shoppers to pack themselves cheek by jowl into a Lowes or other big box store or patronize any one of the thousands of other retail establishments that are not subject to draconian numerical limits. But if 51 people were to meet to worship God in a small rural church in Ault, Colorado, they would do so at the risk of being fined and imprisoned.”

CoronavirusReligious Freedom
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