Nearly two months after losing a court case over Covid-19 restrictions, Colorado’s governor has declared churches and other houses of worship “essential” and has removed attendance caps.
The new order, issued by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and the state health department Dec. 7, lists worship services, weddings and funerals as “essential” and says they “may exceed recommended capacity caps” if “they cannot conduct their essential activity” within the current restrictions.
Attendees must still wear masks and practice six feet of social distancing “between members of different households.” The order also says outdoor services “are still strongly preferred.” But with winter approaching in Colorado, such outdoor services could be unfeasible.
The new order was released nearly two months after U.S. District Judge Daniel D. Domenico ruled that the state’s restrictions on houses of worship likely violate “the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion” because they aren’t neutral and don’t apply to “comparable secular gatherings.” He was nominated by President Trump.
The new order also was released as the U.S. Supreme Court – thanks to a new justice, Amy Coney Barrett – casts doubt on the constitutionality of restrictions on houses of worship. The court in late November issued an injunction preventing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo from enforcing restrictions on religious services.
Prior to the new order, houses of worship were capped at 50 people or up to 25 percent of the building's capacity, according to Colorado Public Radio.
Liberty Counsel, which challenged the restrictions on behalf of Andrew Wommack Ministries, applauded the governor’s new order. The legal organization said Polis took the action “because of the Supreme Court’s decision” in November as well because of a related ruling involving a California church. Polis is a Democrat.
“Governor Jared Polis is finally beginning to see the light,” said Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver. “The Supreme Court has made it very clear that the courts and the states must begin applying the First Amendment to protect houses of worship. It is past time.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.