U.S. high court rejects church challenges to state pandemic rules

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. May 8, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court rejected challenges on Friday to curbs on religious services in California and Illinois during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the California dispute, the nine justices split 5-4 in rejecting a bid by South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista to block the rules issued by Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat. Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberal justices in the majority.

Newsom ordered houses of worship closed to the public in March, but issued new guidelines this week limiting attendance to 25% of building capacity or 100 people, whichever was lower.

“The precise question of when restrictions on particular social activities should be lifted during the pandemic is a dynamic and fact-intensive matter subject to reasonable disagreement,” Roberts wrote in explaining his vote.

There were no noted dissents as the court rejected a similar request by two churches in Illinois, seeking exemption from Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker’s ban on services of more than 10 people, arguing that it infringed on the constitutionally protected free exercise of religion.

In a brief statement, the court said the state Department of Public Health had removed those limits on Thursday.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Andy Sullivan and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Clarence Fernandez

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