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Roberts joins liberals as Supreme Court rejects church challenge to CA virus restrictions

By a 5-4 ruling, high court concludes California restrictions didn't violate church's rights.

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John Roberts
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts at the Trump impeachment trial.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Updated: May 30, 2020 - 9:26am

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In a rare late-night ruling, the Supreme Court on Friday voted 5-4 to reject an emergency appeal by a church that challenged California Gov. Newsom's limits on attendance at worship services designed to protect against the coronavirus.

Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, crossed over to join the court's four liberal justices as the deciding vote and to write the majority opinion.

Newsom's restrictions permitting churches to operate with 25 percent of seats filled and no more than 100 worshipers at a time are consistent with the First Amendment because they treated other public venues like concerts, movies and sporting events similarly, Roberts wrote.

"Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time," the chief justice wrote.

"And the Order exempts or treats more leniently only dissimilar activities, such as operating grocery stores, banks, and laundromats, in which people neither congregate in large groups nor remain in close proximity for extended periods," he added.

The Supreme Court's ruling upheld lower courts in rejecting the argument from South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, Calif.,  that  the restrictions on how many people can attend their services violate the Constitution's religious liberty protections.

In a dissent, Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued the California restriction “discriminates against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses."

You can read the full ruling here.

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