On Friday, Feb. 5, the United States Supreme Court voted 6-3 in favor of allowing California churches to reopen their doors to worshippers. The ruling, which lifted the state’s ban on indoor, in-person church services, went into effect this weekend.
But some California Black Churches say they will keep their doors closed for now. They will, instead, continue to hold virtual services online, which makes it easier for them to adhere to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines.
“For the sake of our members, we will continue to abide by CDC guidelines. We know that COVID-19 is real. Our community has been devastated by this virus. We value our members physical and spiritual health,” said the Rev. K.W. Tuloss, president of the National Action Network Los Angeles and pastor of Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church, which is in downtown L.A.
Tuloss says he can’t speak for every African American congregation in California, but he can safely say a large number of Black ministers in his network up and down the state will take a wait-and-see approach to reopening. They will prioritize the safety of their church members, he says, over all the benefits of fellowshipping in-person.
Associate Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, the high court’s three liberal-leaning members, voted against the request to lift the ban submitted by two California churches — Chula Vista’s South Bay United Pentecostal Church and Pasadena’s Harvest Rock Church.
“Justices of this court are not scientists,” wrote Justice Kagan in her opinion regarding the case. “Nor do we know much about public health policy. Yet today, the court displaces the judgments of experts about how to respond to a raging pandemic.”
The court’s more conservative leaning members, Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito, Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett voted to overturn previous decisions upholding Gov. Newsom’s ban issued by federal judges in San Diego and San Bernardino, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeal in San Francisco.
“Since the arrival of COVID–19, California has openly imposed more stringent regulations on religious institutions than on many businesses,” wrote Justice Neil M. Gorsuch in his opinion against California’s order. “California worries that worship brings people together for too much time. Yet, California does not limit its citizens to running in and out of other establishments; no one is barred from lingering in shopping malls, salons, or bus terminals.”
Responding to the Supreme Court’s decision, the governor’s office said it is revising the ban, now allowing churches across the state to hold indoor services at 25 % capacity.
“We will continue to enforce the restrictions the Supreme Court left in place and, after reviewing the decision, we will issue revised guidelines for worship services to continue to protect the lives of Californians,” said Gov. Newsom’s press secretary Daniel Lopez, said in a statement.
So far in California, there have been 3.41 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 43,987 deaths.
Among African Americans in the state, there have been 101,004 confirmed cases and 2,601 deaths – about 6 % of all mortalities in the state.