CNA Staff, Dec 10, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Governor of Colorado has asked the Supreme Court to drop a church’s lawsuit against the state after he lifted COVID-related capacity limits on churches.
On Wednesday, Gov. Jared Polis (D) asked the Supreme Court to drop the appeal of High Plains Harvest Church in Eaton, Colorado, against the state’s COVID restrictions. The church had asked for an injunction on the state’s order that limited indoor worship to 50 people, in certain areas where the virus was spreading.
In its appeal to the Supreme Court on Dec. 4, the church argued that the state’s restrictions were “transparently selective and discriminatory” in subjecting churches to limits that some retail stores were exempted from.
“Today in Colorado it is perfectly legal for hundreds of shoppers to pack themselves cheek by jowl into a Lowes or other big box store or patronize any one of the thousands of other retail establishments that are not subject to draconian numerical limits,” the church stated in its brief. “But if 51 people were to meet to worship God in a small rural church in Ault, Colorado, they would do so at the risk of being fined and imprisoned.”
On Monday, however, the state reclassified houses of worship as “critical businesses,” exempting them from capacity limits that other non-essential businesses were subject to.
Churches are still be subject to other requirements, such as distancing, mask-wearing, ensuring proper ventilation, and cleaning of surfaces, the state said.
In a Dec. 9 brief at the Supreme Court, Gov. Polis asked the court to drop the case, saying that “High Plains already has the relief it seeks.”
The restrictions were not “in any way motivated by any animus toward religion,” Polis argued, saying that instead churches were treated strictly because they are “high-risk” settings for the spread of the virus.
“The district court received uncontroverted evidence that closed, indoor environments where people spend a long duration in close contact—such as houses of worship—pose a higher risk of transmission than those settings where people have transient contacts—such as grocery stores,” Polis said.
Churches in New York have won their appeals for an injunction on state COVID restrictions, with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Brooklyn Diocese on Nov. 25.
When the Brooklyn Diocese sued the state of New York over its restrictions, the state made a similar argument in court—that churches were high-risk settings and thus merited greater restrictions than other settings such as grocery stores.
However, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision ruled that the state had put unlawful restrictions on the freedom of worship, saying that its limits, “by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”
Following that decision, California churches saw their appeal against the state’s restrictions accepted by the Supreme Court on Dec. 3; the case has been sent back to the lower courts for reconsideration in light of the Brooklyn Diocese decision.
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