WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered lower federal courts in Colorado and New Jersey to reexamine state restrictions on indoor religious services to combat the coronavirus in light of the justices’ recent ruling in favor of churches and synagogues in New York.
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.
The High Plains Harvest Church in the rural town of Ault in northern Colorado sued Polis, while a Catholic priest and a rabbi challenged the restrictions in New Jersey.
Last month, the Supreme Court split 5-4 in holding that New York could not enforce certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues. The high court subsequently ordered a new look at California worship service restrictions that had been challenged.
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.
No justice noted a dissent from the New Jersey decision.