(UnitedVoice.com) – High-handed governors intent on using legislative power not granted to them under the Constitution to combat COVID-19 are being dealt blows one at a time by the courts. Over the last month, the US Supreme Court ruled that New York went too far in restricting religious freedoms. In California, the court upheld their New York decision and ordered the state courts to overturn the governor’s restriction on religious gatherings.
In another Democratic-led state, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit did it again. In Nevada, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) was sued by Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley for treating businesses and other entities more favorably than churches.
Essential vs. Non-Essential
California, New York, and Nevada governors created the highly subjective “essential” versus “non-essential” terms to justify some businesses being open versus closing other organizations. Churches were listed as non-essential despite clear Constitutional rights given under the Freedom of Religion and Free Exercise clauses.
Under Sisolak’s subjective rules, churches and “houses of worship” were capped at a 50-person limit. However, retail businesses, gyms, restaurants, breweries, wineries, and even tattoo and piercing facilities were free to operate at 50% of their fire code capacity.
Churches Burdened by Government Overreach
Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley said religious organizations such as theirs were being singled out. The church said gathering together in one building was central to their “expression of faith.” Therefore, the governor’s orders were discriminatory and a burden on their religious expression.
A district court initially ruled against the church, saying their legal action was likely to fail based on a ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom. However, that was before the new conservative majority ruling in November in New York and California.
Ninth Circuit Overturns the Lower Court
Overturning the district court, the Ninth Circuit Court said the New York Supreme Court ruling “represented a seismic shift in Free Exercise law.” In light of that, the judges said there was a high likelihood the church would win on the “merits.”
The court also agreed that businesses and other organizations were treated better than churches and that occupancy limitation would cause irreparable harm.
Once again, Justice Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion from the New York case rings loud and true, “Government is not free to disregard the First Amendment in times of crisis.”
Don Purdum, Independent Political Analyst
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