Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch rejected a request from two churches to block a Colorado law that lets the state issue emergency orders in the event of wildfires, earthquakes and other disasters, such as the coronavirus pandemic.
The Denver-area churches said high court intervention was warranted because the state had gone too far in using the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act to impose capacity restrictions against houses of worship in a bid to stem the pandemic.
Gorsuch, who handles emergency matters from Colorado, gave no explanation in turning away the weeks-old request on his own. He chose not to refer the matter to the full nine-member court, as justices often do in close cases.
The churches sought to extend a line of Supreme Court orders favoring houses of worship in COVID-19 cases.
In a 5-4 decision in April, Gorsuch and the rest of the court’s conservative wing imposed what commentators have called a “most favored nation” rule, largely barring restrictions on houses of worship unless officials impose similar curbs on all comparable secular activities.
Denver Bible Church and Community Baptist Church sued in August, when churches and other facilities in Colorado were subject to capacity limits and distancing requirements. Although the state no longer imposes those restrictions, the churches told the Supreme Court they remain “under constant threat by government” as long as the disaster law is in force.
Colorado Attorney General Philip Weiser said invalidating the law would create a “severe hardship” for the state. He says Colorado uses the law to address a variety of emergencies, including wildfires, floods and infestation.
The case is Denver Bible Church v. Polis, 20A163.
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