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Supreme Court Case Analysis: South Bay United Pentecostal Church V. Gavin Newsom

In this blog, we will explore the question of constitutionality regarding the Supreme Court Case of South Bay United Pentecostal Church v Gavin Newsom, Governor of California.

So what happened? Before and during the holiday season, California was decimated with Covid-19 cases across its state. LA Country was in grave danger of running out of hospital space reserved for COVID-19 patients, and residents of California were instructed not to call 911 except for life-threatening emergencies. According to a New York Times graph, 42,885 people were diagnosed on the same day with the virus: December 20, 2020. These events are my best guess as to why California issued a total lockdown of their state for several weeks during that time.

As a result of the lockdown, restaurants, shopping centers, small businesses, movie theaters, sports, elective surgeries, schools, and attending houses of worship in person were all forced to shutter their doors for a period of time. Houses of worship such as the SBUPC saw these safety measures as a violation of their constitutional rights, and eventually sued the State of California.

The verdict? While it was unconstitutional for the State of California to completely shut down in person religious services, it can be constitutional for a state to impose capacity restrictions toward those houses of worship. For instance, Gov Newsom can impose an order requiring these organizations to curb attendance to no more than twenty five percent capacity. Furthermore, Newsom is able to restrict singing inside a venue such as the SBUPC. Experts who study variants of COVID-19 believe singing indoors could spread the virus throughout the facility.

Justices Thomas and Gorsuch believe there should be no restrictions whatsoever on attending religious services in person during the pandemic. Justices Alito, Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Roberts also agree that it is unconstitutional to impose a complete ban on attending services in person, but believe that capacity limitations are constitutional. Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented.

Now understanding the general scope of the case, do you believe a state can restrict attendance of this kind even though the First Amendment protects freedom of religion, a right that states cannot infringe upon? Can people be as observant of their religion virtually as they can be in person? Let me know in the comments below.

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