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Supreme Court Remands Colorado/New Jersey Religious-Freedom Cases, Citing Its Decision Against New York

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month ruled against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 restrictions on churches and synagogues. The court contended that the state’s restrictions on houses of worship were harsher than those on secular establishments.

Since the ruling, the high court has remanded cases with similar COVID-19 restrictions. For example, the justices vacated a district court decision against Harvest Rock Baptist Church in Pasadena, California, ordering the court to reconsider its decision in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling against Cuomo’s restrictions.

The court this week issued a similar ruling in two cases. Justices ordered lower courts in Colorado and New Jersey to reconsider their rulings against High Plains Harvest Church in Colorado and Saint Anthony of Padua Church and a synagogue in New Jersey in light of the New York case’s outcome. The houses of worship said their states’ restrictions on capacity were more severe than secular establishments. From Fox 31 Denver:

The high court’s unsigned decisions did not rule that limits imposed by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy were improper. But they did throw out federal district court rulings that rejected challenges to the limits.

Colorado told the justices last week that it had amended a public health order “to remove capacity limits from all houses of worship at all times in response to this Court’s recent decisions.”

That should have settled the matter because “there is no reason to think Colorado will reverse course—and so no reason to think Harvest Church will again face capacity limits,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a brief dissent that was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

Chief Justice John Roberts voted against houses of worship in the New York case but sided with the conservative justices in the Colorado case. As Fox 31 reported, the liberal justices considered one of the cases moot, since Colorado’s governor and the state health department now say that worship services are essential and have lifted capacity limits.

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