Supreme Court ruling no barrier to ban on indoor worship, Santa Clara County claims

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph in San Jose, Calif. Credit: Iv-olga/Shutterstock.

San Jose, Calif., Feb 12, 2021 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- California’s Santa Clara County has again banned indoor worship, saying its rules to mitigate coronavirus spread are “fundamentally different” from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order recently blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court because it treats all indoor gatherings similarly.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Wednesday temporarily suspended a previous order blocking a countywide ban and allowing indoor worship at 20% capacity. The county’s public health department then announced it would reinstate the ban.

The court will make a final decision at an upcoming hearing.

County Counsel James R. Williams said the county is pleased with the opportunity “to fully brief and argue the important legal and public health issues at stake in this case,” the Associated Press reports.

County policy bans indoor gatherings whether religious or not. Williams said this is an “even-handed” effort to prevent coronavirus “super-spreader events”, and that it is “fundamentally different” from the governor’s state order.

California’s strict coronavirus rules banning indoor worship statewide were blocked and revised by a U.S. Supreme Court injunction Feb. 5.

The court ruled 6-3 that California’s ban on indoor worship was unconstitutional. The court allowed the state to limit indoor capacity at worship services to 25% capacity at most, while allowing the state to ban singing at religious gatherings.

Supreme Court justices said that religious services appeared to be wrongly singled out when similar indoor gatherings were allowed under the state order.

Santa Clara County constitutes the territory of the Diocese of San Jose. Before the indoor worship ban was reinstated, the diocese’s most recent coronavirus update, dated Feb. 9, said that parishes, missions, and chapels may resume indoor services at 20% capacity “only if and when each parish can safely do so.”

“I am grateful that places of worship now have the same capacity limits as retail shopping and personal care services in Santa Clara County,” Bishop Oscar Cantu had said.

CNA sought further information from the San Jose diocese but did not receive a response by deadline.

Close to 46,000 people have died from coronavirus in the state, and over 1,600 in Santa Clara County, which has 2 million residents.

In a Feb. 11 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said that Catholics “have scientific evidence that positively demonstrates we can celebrate Mass safely indoors.”

Many Catholic dioceses have resumed religious services, following local required or recommended measures to limit the risk of coronavirus spread, like limited congregation size, wearing masks, keeping physical distance between households, and encouraging good hand hygiene.

Before Christmas, Cordileone himself instructed priests to offer Mass indoors if needed, in violation of state orders at the time. However, he required them to follow safety measures like capping attendance at 20% capacity, and mandating masks and social distancing.

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