"US Supreme Court West Facade" by Matt Wade / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Supreme Court’s Religious Crusaders Take On the Pandemic Response

Aug 3, 2020

By Linda Greenhouse

I know I should be jaded by now by the persistence of the Supreme Court’s conservative justices in seeking to elevate religious interests over those of secular society. After all, in the closing days of the court’s term, religious employers won the right to withhold from female employees the contraception coverage to which federal law entitled them. Religious schools gained a broad exemption from the anti-discrimination laws that would otherwise protect classroom teachers and soon, no doubt, other employees as well.

But I was still startled last week to see Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas vote to turn a public health issue into a religious crusade. Fortunately for the people of rural Lyon County, Nev., where a church went to federal court for the right to have 90 people at a worship service instead of the permitted 50, the four justices failed to find a fifth vote and the 50-person cap remains.

What surprised me was not that a church would run to federal court with such a case, rather than add a second service or meet outside under a tent. Representing the church, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, was the Alliance Defending Freedom, which used to focus primarily on representing people seeking a religious exemption from having to do business with couples in same-sex marriages. Lately, the alliance has been bringing cases around the country to challenge Covid-19-related limits on in-person church services.

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