South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, No. 20-56358 (9th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
In light of the surging community spread of COVID-19, California's public health and epidemiological experts have crafted a complex set of regulations that restrict various activities based on their risk of transmitting the disease and the projected toll on the State's healthcare system. California permits unlimited attendance at outdoor worship services and deems clergy and faith-based streaming services "essential," but has temporarily halted all congregate indoor activities, including indoor religious services, within the most at-risk regions of the state.
South Bay challenges this restriction, along with others, under provisions of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the United States and California Constitutions. South Bay argues that the current restrictions on indoor services prohibit congregants' Free Exercise of their theology, which requires gathering indoors. The district court concluded that California's restrictions on indoor worship are narrowly tailored to meet its compelling—and immediate—state interest in stopping the community spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of South Bay's request to enjoin California's temporary prohibition on indoor worship under the Regional Stay at Home Order and Tier 1 of the Blueprint. The panel concluded that, although South Bay has demonstrated irreparable harm, it has not demonstrated that the likelihood of success, the balance of the equities, or the public interest weigh in its favor. The panel stated that California has a compelling interest in reducing community spread of COVID-19, and the Stay at Home Order is narrowly tailored to achieve the State's compelling interest in stemming the recent case surge. The panel also concluded that South Bay has not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits with respect to its challenge to California's state-wide ban on indoor singing and chanting. In this case, the State's ban on these activities is rationally related to controlling the spread of COVID-19. The panel could not, however, conclude that the 100- and 200-person attendance caps on indoor worship under Tiers 2 and 3 of the Blueprint survive strict scrutiny. The panel explained that the State has not shown that less restrictive measures, such as basing attendance limits on the size of the church, synagogue or mosque would cause any greater peril to the public. The panel remanded to the district court with instructions to enjoin the State from imposing the 100- and 200-person caps under Tiers 2 and 3 of the Blueprint.
This opinion or order relates to an opinion or order originally issued on December 23, 2020.