Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch on Tuesday rejected a request by two Colorado churches and their pastors to a law that provided the basis for the state’s coronavirus restrictions.
Gorsuch, who has jurisdiction over cases out of Colorado, denied the churches’ petition, without referring the matter to the full court. According to CNN, Gorsuch suggested he didn’t think his colleagues would be interested in the arguments put forward by the churches.
Conservative groups that had supported other challenges to state Covid restrictions did not weigh in in favor of the churches in the Colorado dispute, suggesting that they, too, thought the request was too broad.
The unsuccessful challenge took aim at the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act (CDEA), which authorizes the governor to respond to pandemics as well as a variety of other disasters, including droughts, floods and fires, The Hill reported. The churches argued in their May petition that the CDEA “remains a future threat” capable of discriminating against religious exercise.
Lawyers for Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, had urged Gorsuch last month to reject the request and told the justices in court papers that the challenge was neither “necessary ” nor “warranted” because Colorado had already lifted capacity limitations from houses of worship last December, The Hill reported.
“The only remaining general restriction that applies to all establishments, including houses of worship, is facial coverings, but a specific exemption for religious practice permits their temporary removal to participate in religious services,” the state argued, adding that the law creates a mechanism for the state to respond to a broad range of disaster emergencies. “Invalidating the Act would cause severe hardship to the state,” according to the brief.
The lawyers for the churches and pastors accused the lower courts of “failing to apply strict scrutiny to mandates that were not neutral and not generally applicable to both religious and secular activities.”
They argued that under Colorado’s disaster statute, “favored activities are exempt from mandates arising from (the statute) but … mandates apply to houses of worship engaging in comparable activities.”