The Supreme Court sided with a rural Colorado church Tuesday that challenged the state Democrat governor’s COVID rules restricting building capacity in some parts of the state.
The 6-3 decision overturned lower court rulings that had upheld Gov. Jared Polis’s church gathering limits to a maximum of 25 percent or 50 people, whichever is fewer, and ordered lower courts to re-examine the case.
“Today in Colorado it is perfectly legal for hundreds of shoppers to pack themselves cheek by jowl into a Lowes or other big box store or patronize any one of the thousands of other retail establishments that are not subject to draconian numerical limits,” church attorney Barry Arrington told National Review.
In the brief unsigned order, Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor dissented, arguing the case was moot given the state had already repealed its COVID orders on churches following a November ruling in a similar case out of New York nullifying religious restrictions.
The case was brought by the High Plains Harvest Church north of Denver, arguing the state was unlawfully targeting religious institutions by imposing harsher restrictions on churches than shopping centers.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court also handed down its ruling on a New Jersey case brought by a Catholic priest and a rabbi. This ruling overturned limits on religious gatherings in houses of worship, wiping out executive rule-favoring opinions in the lower courts.
The cases upholding religious liberty come on the heels of rare public remarks by Justice Samuel Alito criticizing coronavirus lockdowns this year as placing “previously unimaginable” restrictions on American freedom.
“We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020,” Alito said in a virtual speech to The Federalist Society. “The COVID crisis has served as sort of a constitutional stress test.”