Supreme Court Allows Religious Exemptions from some Coronavirus Rules

Commentary & Community

Supreme Court Allows Religious Exemptions from some Coronavirus Rules

Officials in Colorado and New Jersey wanted to impose attendance limits on religious services, but the Supreme Court held that these states did not have the power to order this.


In both states, authorities had said that there must be limits on in-person religious gatherings. However, the states had different rules for other gatherings. The justices determined that the state must treat religious groups the same as these other gatherings. Failing to do so would violate the First Amendment.


These decisions were in line with a Supreme Court order from last month. In the Colorado case, the justices ruled against the state by a decision of 6-3. The three dissenting justices did not necessarily object to the rationale of the case. Instead, they held that since Colorado had already lifted its restriction, the case was moot. There were no dissents in the New Jersey case.


The issue of how stay-at-home orders and other restrictions related to the coronavirus apply to churches, mosques, and other religious gatherings has been a divisive issue during the pandemic. States often impose different types of restrictions on different types of businesses and gatherings. Religious groups have sued when restrictions on churches are more severe than restrictions on restaurants or other businesses.


These suits allege that when government is imposing restraints on religious exercises, it should do so as minimally as possible. They argue that treating religious gatherings more strictly than other gatherings is an infringement upon the freedom to worship. The Supreme Court has agreed with this reasoning.


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