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Home / News / Church & Ministry / U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Colorado restrictions on religious gatherings
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High Plains Harvest Church, while small, won a huge victory. Photo: Facebook.

U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Colorado restrictions on religious gatherings

The U.S. Supreme Court continues to side with churches that are challenging overreaching state restrictions. On Tuesday, the court ruled in favor of a Colorado church that sued Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.

High Plains Harvest Church in Ault had challenged the governor and Colorado public health officials after they restricted church gatherings earlier this year, reducing occupancy to 50 people. The ruling came even though Colorado had backtracked on its restrictions in response to the Supreme Court telling Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York in November to stop discriminating against religious groups when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions. 

High Plains Harvest Church argued that the state placed stricter limitations on churches than for businesses. The church’s attorney, Barry Arrington, noted that houses of worship were being forced to follow a separate set of rules.

Video: Church pastors speak

“Today in Colorado, it is perfectly legal for hundreds of shoppers to pack themselves cheek by jowl into a Lowe’s or other big-box store or patronize any one of the thousands of other retail establishments that are not subject to draconian numerical limits,” Arrington wrote. “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.”

Additionally, the Department of Justice filed a statement of interest earlier this year supporting religious freedom for High Plains Harvest Church and its pastor.

“Especially during a crisis like this, the ability of people of faith to be able to exercise their religion is essential,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “Colorado has offered no good reason for not trusting congregants who promise to use care in worship the same way it trusts diners inside a restaurant or accountants, realtors or lawyers to do the same. The U.S. Department of Justice will continue to take action if states and localities infringe on the free exercise of religion or other civil liberties.”

In November, the new conservative majority joined together to block the enforcement of gathering restrictions in New York, arguing that the state has wrongly treated a variety of secular businesses more favorably than houses of worship.

“Members of this court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” the majority opinion said.

Now, that November opinion has been used to strike down Colorado’s gathering rules. The justices also cited it Tuesday in a separate decision that sends a challenge to New Jersey’s religious restrictions back to the lower courts for further review.

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice

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