Colorado lifts virus-related cap on religious gatherings

Colorado lifts virus-related cap on religious gatherings

Father Kirk Slattery of St. Gabriel in the Diocese of Colorado Springs celebrates an outdoor Mass near Pikes Peak May 17, 2020. (Credit: Brian Schick/The Colorado Catholic Herald via CNS.)

Colorado has lifted its coronavirus-related capacity on religious gatherings after the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily barred New York from imposing limits on such events.

DENVER — Colorado has lifted its coronavirus-related capacity on religious gatherings after the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily barred New York from imposing limits on such events.

The amended state order went into effect on Monday.

State public health officials still recommend people limit religious gatherings as much as possible.

“Worship and ceremonies such as weddings and funerals are classified as essential,” the state Department of Public Health and Environment said in a statement. “This means that they must do their best to follow public health recommendations but may exceed recommended capacity caps if they cannot conduct their essential activity within those restrictions. They still must require masks indoors and other prevention measures like 6-foot spacing between members of different households and appropriate sanitation. Outdoor activities are still strongly preferred.”

The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled 5-4 in November that New York could not enforce certain restrictions on religious services in areas hit hard by the coronavirus.

Earlier this year, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was still on the court, the Supreme Court had voted 5-4 to uphold coronavirus-related capacity limits on churches in California and Nevada.

But in November, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett appointed in place of the deceased Ginsburg, the court flipped its opinion. It was the conservative judge’s first publicly discernible vote as a justice.

“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,” the Supreme Court’s conservative majority wrote in their opinion. “But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”

Colorado had allowed religious gatherings to occur at 50 percent of their capacity or up to 500 people in counties with the least amount of virus spread. No counties currently fit that criteria, the Colorado Sun reported.

For counties with more coronavirus spread, religious gatherings were capped at 50 people, or 25 percent capacity.

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