In the Book “A Pastor’s Pit”, religious liberty is a very important issue as the pastor is indicted for the crime of religious hate speech. Many Americans seem to believe that the battle concerning our religious liberty is unimportant because it is settled by the First Amendment to the US Constitution which provides Congress shall make no law….prohibiting the free exercise of religion (frequently referred to as the “free exercise clause”). However, nothing could be further from the truth and that battle continues in 2020.
- On Saturday August 15, 2020, the California Court of Appeals issued an order that would prevent the Grace Community Church in Sun Valley CA (pastored by John MacArthur) from conducting services on Sunday because that would violate a Los Angeles County health order banning large indoor meetings because of Covid-19. The church met anyway, and it is anticipated the County will continue to pursue the legal remedy of an injunction against MacArthur and Grace Community Church to prevent worship services;
- On May 29, 2020, the US Supreme Court ruled in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newson, that California’s order limiting church gatherings to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 people was not discriminatory in spite of the fact that secular businesses were not subject to such an occupancy cap. Chief Justice Roberts said that the restrictions “appear consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment”. The dissent, written by Justice Kavanaugh said that the ruling was improper because it allowed businesses that are not subject to size restrictions, such as supermarkets, restaurants, hair salons and cannabis dispensaries to continue while churches were being shut down.
- On July 24, 2020, in the case of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Governor’s order severely restricting church, synagogue or mosque attendance to 50 persons but allowing casinos and certain other businesses to admit 50% of maximum occupancy did not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the US Constitution. The church was seeking to allow 50% of the fire code capacity to attend church services in the same manner as was allowed for casinos. The church represented that it also intended to impose safety restrictions that would exceed the CDC safety guidelines for those worship services.
The above cases demonstrate that the attack on religious liberty is far from over and that the Supreme Court, led by what was once thought to be conservative Chief Justice Roberts, will likely continue to seek to limit the exercise of religious freedom.