Feb 05, 2021

Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s order tonight in two cases involving religious groups challenging public health orders in California that limit large gatherings:

“Once again the Supreme Court has misconstrued religious freedom to mean religious privilege and placed the health of the American people in jeopardy with an order that allows houses of worship to evade sensible public safety regulations curbing large gatherings during a pandemic.

“This action is especially troubling now: Coronavirus cases remain very high across the country and most of the population is not yet vaccinated. This is exactly the wrong time for the court to spur more infections by exempting religious groups from regulations that apply to all of us.

“State orders restricting large gatherings, religious and secular, are for the common good. This is a time for shared sacrifice. Tragically, the court’s embrace of a radical definition of religious freedom and its unwillingness to uphold public health officials’ common-sense rules are actively undercutting our national effort to keep everyone safe and healthy.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling follows a similar Nov. 25 decision that blocked restrictions on religious gatherings imposed by New York State. Tonight’s ruling is all the more concerning because it stops enforcement of California’s restrictions even though many intensive care units in the state are filled to capacity due to the pandemic.

Americans United filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court in defense of the public-health restrictions at issue in the two California cases, South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom and Harvest Rock Church v. Newsom. Americans United has also filed 43 other amicus briefs in courts across the country, including four others in the Supreme Court, in cases involving requests for religious exemptions from COVID-19 public health orders. Until the Supreme Court’s ruling in the New York case, the vast majority of the decisions in these cases had rejected these requests.

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom. Learn more at www.au.org.