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Despite Supreme Court ruling, some local places of worship remain closed

Updated: Feb 22, 2021

Illustration by Gene Wickham

Many of California’s places of worship will continue to hold services online even after the Supreme Court overruled state guidelines.

By Isaac Dektor, Staff Writer

A San Diego church will be resuming indoor services following the Supreme Court’s decision last Friday to overrule California’s prohibition on indoor services, but some local places of worship will not follow suit.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to overturn the ban on indoor services within places of worship in California’s Tier 1 counties. The tier system, implemented under the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, assigns restrictions to individual counties based on their rate of infection. Los Angeles County is currently in Tier 1, which signifies widespread risk of COVID-19. The court overruled a total ban of indoor services for places of worship in Tier 1 counties, but maintained Tier 2 restrictions that a maximum 25 percent capacity and a prohibition on singing and chanting be enforced.

The decision was made due to a court case filed by the South Bay United Pentecostal Church against Gov. Gavin Newsom, which claimed that the Blueprint’s Tier 1 restrictions on places of worship were unconstitutional.

In a statement to KPBS News, a pastor at South Bay United, Bishop Arthur Hodges, expressed concerns that the original Tier 1 regulations treated places of worship and secular institutions unequally.

“The Supreme Court of the United States with this ruling reaffirmed that Americans should never be forced to have to choose between obeying God or government,” Hodges said.

While the ruling has made it possible to resume indoor services, many local places of worship chose to keep their doors closed.

The Sherman Oaks Temple B’nai Haym has been conducting services over Zoom and Facebook Live for months and will continue to do so following the Supreme Court’s decision. Rabbi Richard Flom, the spiritual leader at B’nai Haym, expressed his concerns for the community — specifically the older members of his synagogue.

“We’re following the basic Jewish principle which states that saving lives takes precedence over everything else, including worship,” Flom said.

Christ Chapel of the Valley will also follow the guidelines set by state health officials. Reverend Jerrell Walls, founder of the Christ Chapel of the Valley, said that he will not be resuming in-door services until the county enters Tier 2.

“We need to be wise and concerned for each other’s health,” said Walls.

A county needs less than seven positive tests per 100,000 in order to move into Tier 2.

Eugene Scott, a professor of anthropology at Valley College, thinks that indoor services should remain closed until infection rates drop.

“Faith and spirituality are not vital to overcoming the pandemic,” Scott said. “Science is the prudent path forward. If faith and spirituality get one to adhere to safety protocols, then it is helpful. If faith deters you from following guidelines that protect the entire community, it is not helpful and potentially deadly.”

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