Justice Kavanaugh Leads Dissent, as Four on High Court See Church Discrimination as First Amendment Violation

THOMAS MORE SOCIETY — On Friday, May 29, 2020, in a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court rejected an emergency appeal by the Thomas More Society on behalf of a California church fighting for religious rights in the face of ongoing gubernatorial restrictions during the COVID-19 crisis.

San Diego-area South Bay United Pentecostal Church sued California Governor Newsom for prohibition of in-person worship, after deeming churches “nonessential” and on par with tattoo parlors. After the case was submitted to the high court, Newsom pulled back, changing his ban to an arbitrary cap on the number of people allowed to gather at a church.

The Emergency Application for Writ of Injunctive Relief was first submitted to SCOTUS on Saturday, May 23, in the face of this continued violation of the constitutional rights of the church and Bishop Arthur Hodges III. Attorney Charles LiMandri with LiMandri & Jonna LLP, serving as Special Counsel to the Thomas More Society, responded to the late-night ruling:

“The disappointing ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court was a close 5-4 vote. It was based on the very high standards required for obtaining an emergency injunction on appeal of a case that is still ongoing in the lower courts. The majority opinion was simply a one-sentence decision not to grant emergency relief at this time – without any analysis. However, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing on his own and with no other Justices joining him, authored a concurring opinion that should have little or no precedential value. This is not a decision on the merits of the case. There is still a split in the Circuit Courts of Appeal, and this case is far from over. We will proceed with our expedited appeal in the Ninth Circuit and, if necessary, seek a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on the merits under a much more favorable standard. It is absolutely imperative that the U.S. Supreme Court considers these important issues on the merits – after the rulings in the lower courts become final. Although this interim ruling is disappointing, it’s clear to us that, without the filing and vigorous litigation of this lawsuit, churches would still be closed in California under Governor Newsom’s original shut-down orders.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in dissent that the restriction, “…discriminates against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses. Such discrimination violates the First Amendment.” He noted that supermarkets, restaurants, hair salons, cannabis dispensaries, and other businesses are not being subjected to the same restrictions. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joined the dissent. Justice Alito joined them in voting to grant relief to the church.

SOURCE Thomas More Society

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