Religious Freedom Wins Again at Supreme Court; But for How Long?

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

It got little coverage in the Mainstream Media, but the Supreme Court on Friday ruled 6-3 that Santa Clara County, California, officials cannot forbid churches in the Silicon Valley region from holding in-person worship services.


Chief Justice John Roberts joined with justices Amy Coney Barrett, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch in striking down Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Tier 1 ban on indoor worship services. The majority also singled out the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, noting that its “failure to grant relief was erroneous.”

Liberal justice Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Newsom’s order did not bar people from shopping at Big Box stores like Walmart, Costco, and Safeway, or liquor stores and multiple other businesses.

As I’ve previously written elsewhere, the High Court has been handing down similar decisions since last Thanksgiving. There appears to be a solid 5-4 majority to uphold the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religious assembly and practice. Roberts is not yet seen by many court observers as a reliable vote for the majority on such issues.

“This is another great victory for California against the governor’s draconian orders,” said Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver. “However, the U.S. Supreme Court has already issued the Constitutional roadmap, and Governor Gavin Newsom’s total ban on worship has come to an end. Yet, the lower courts continue to ignore this. Liberty Counsel will continue to press this case until religious freedom is totally restored.”

Interestingly, Santa Clara County officials appeared to try to pull a fast one on the justices, but they didn’t take the bait, according to Liberty Counsel:


Santa Clara County initially urged the justices to leave the ban on indoor worship services in place. On Thursday, the county told the court that, because COVID-19 rates continue to fall there, it would allow indoor worship services and other prohibited indoor gatherings to resume with capacity limits.

That change could take effect as soon as Wednesday. However, the High Court did not wait to see whether the county would in fact lift its restrictions. In an unsigned order on Friday night, the justices granted the churches’ request to stop the restrictions on hold while their appeals continue.

Unlike in the High Court, religious freedom is under assault in the Democratic House of Representatives, as seen in passage of H.R. 5, the grievously mis-named “Equality Act.” Don’t think the religious community is looking the other way, particularly not among evangelicals.

Dr. Richard Land, the present head of Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES) and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the nation’s largest protestant denomination, minced no words in a statement Monday:

The so-called “Equality Act” is a dagger aimed at the heart of religious freedom in America as enshrined in the First Amendment. This abomination of a bill, if passed by Congress, would include any establishment that provides a service, including churches and religious non-profit charitable and educational institutions.

The bill expressly rescinds the protections afforded by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Who could have ever thought Rep. Nadler (D-NY), of all people, would put his finger on the root cause of the Congress’s dangerous and destructive action? On the floor of the House, during debate on the bill, Nadler declared, “What any religious tradition describes as God’s will is no concern of this Congress.” That says it all.


And Dr. Richard Howe, an SES emeritus professor of Philosophy and Apologetics, believes H.R. 5 has explosive potential in its mistreatment of gender issues in sports, saying, “everyone resonates with the Civil Rights Act and its validity because it was borne out of a sound understanding of human nature and natural law. That doesn’t parallel what is going on with the gender issues.”

The sound reason that leads us to know that human beings are all equal with each other isn’t the same kind of reasoning that could make someone think that we’re indifferent to the gender distinctions, that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman in terms of which sport you participate in, or whom you marry.

For the federal government to just imperialize over that is incendiary. It is trying to — by fiat — over-turn thousands of years of tradition by trying to codify this into law when there is such a diversity of opinion about it. This is a powder keg.

The Equality Act still must pass the Senate, which is anything but guaranteed, before it would land on President Joe Biden’s desk for signature. If it does make it through the Senate and gets Biden’s John Hancock, it won’t be long before the federal courts are flooded with litigation.

Will the present 6-3/5-4 Supreme Court majority protecting the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious practice and assembly be equally adamant about protecting religious institutions and individuals from this latest dagger aimed at their constitutional hearts?


Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative journalist who covers Congress for The Epoch Times, and is founder and editor of HillFaith, an apologetics ministry sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with congressional aides on Capitol Hill.

Deceptively Titled ‘Equality Act’ Would Be Giant Step to Destroying Religious Freedom


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