Facing a new Supreme Court that’s prone to side with religious liberty in legal disputes, Los Angeles County on Saturday dropped its ban on indoor worship services, as long as attendees wear masks and practice social distancing.
The new order, posted on the website of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, says churches and other houses of worship “are permitted to offer faith-based services both indoors and outdoors” with “mandatory physical distancing and face coverings over both the nose and mouth that must be worn at all times while on site.” Houses of worship “must also assure that attendance does not exceed the number of people who can be accommodated while maintaining a physical distance of six feet between separate households.”
The order says the county’s restrictions were “modified” in order “to align with recent Supreme Court rulings for places of worship.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has delivered multiple victories to houses of worship in recent weeks, beginning with a November decision that prevents New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo from enforcing a restriction limiting houses of worship to 10 and 25 persons, depending on the location.
Chief Justice John Roberts earlier this year sided with the court’s liberal bloc in legal disputes over church restrictions, yet he joined the conservative bloc in the recent cases -- meaning churches now could have a 6-3 edge in court.
Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church have been involved in a high-profile legal battle against Los Angeles County’s restrictions on churches.
The health department still urges churches to gather outdoors instead of indoors.
“Public Health strongly recommends that places of worship continue to hold services outdoors, with physical distancing and the use of face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to congregants and to the entire community,” the order says. “Because Los Angeles County is experiencing an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, every effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to congregants and to the entire community is critical.”
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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.