The United States Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in favor of Colorado’s High Plains Harvest Church, which is challenging public health orders issued by Gov. Jared Polis and the state’s public health department.
The health orders limit in-person worship attendance to 50 people, regardless of the size of the building, even though many secular businesses are allowed to operate without any limits on numbers.
The ruling overturned lower court rulings that declined to block the state’s attendance restrictions. The high court instructed the lower courts to reconsider the High Plains Harvest Church case in light of the Supreme Court’s Nov. 25 ruling that struck down similar occupancy limits in New York.
In the New York ruling, the court pointed out that the state was wrong to single out houses of worship for attendance restrictions that other businesses did not need to meet. In a sharply worded concurring opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote: “According to the Governor, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians. Who knew public health would so perfectly align with secular convenience?”
In the Colorado case, Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented, but only because they felt the case had become moot; Colorado had already lifted the limits on church attendance and there was “no reason to think Harvest Church will again face capacity limits.”
On the same day as the Colorado ruling, the court issued a brief, unsigned order in the case of a New Jersey Roman Catholic priest and others, again instructing the lower court to reconsider its ruling about worship attendance in light of the November New York ruling.
“The impact of the Supreme Court rulings is a welcome relief,” said Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver. “Tyrannical governors must let the captives go free. Some governors have become power hungry, and now the courts are agreeing that it’s past time to end these restrictions on places of worship.”
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