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Supreme Court ruling on church and synagogue Covid-19 restrictions in New York expected to impact legal challenges in California

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Monsignor Howard Lincoln at Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert talked about the possibility of having parishioners celebrating mass back indoors once again.

"We'd love to get back inside the church. We've been outside now for two months," said Lincoln. 

Lincoln reacted Monday to last week's decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that temporarily bars the state of New York from enforcing restrictions that cap the number of people allowed to attend indoor religious services.

The ruling will very likely clear the way for indoor services to take place once again at California houses of worship as early as this week, even under purple tier restrictions according to attorney Paul Jonna.

"The court now with Justice Barrett on the court looked at the regulations in New York and correctly determined they were not neutral to religion," said Jonna.

Jonna represents several Southern California churches and clergy members who assert current state restrictions targeting indoor worship are unconstitutional. 

"We're dealing with guaranteed constitutional rights that the founders recognized don't come from the state, they come from God," said Jonna. 

Under the purple tier restrictions now in effect in Riverside County and in many other California counties, indoor worship services are not allowed.

Jonna argued a case unsuccessfully before the Supreme Court in May on behalf of South Bay United Episcopal Church in San Diego in an attempt to get the state ban on indoor worship lifted.

He is now pursing similar cases on behalf of a Catholic priest in Kern County and Pastor John MacArthur at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley.

"In one of our cases for example Father Burfitt's church got cited for having 5 people praying inside the church wearing face masks," said Jonna. 

Jonna says with motions he plans to file this week or next with the 9th Circuit Court and possibly the Supreme Court, he's optimistic he'll prevail, in light of last week's ruling by the high court. 

"I think we'll see some restrictions but reasonable restrictions that comply with the constitution," said Jonna. 

The attorney says even if indoor worship is allowed to resume, he expects places of worship will still be required to follow CDC guidelines, including wearing masks and social distancing.

Monsignor Lincoln says he'll move the congregations back indoors while following precautions.

Rabbi Steven Rosenberg at Temple Isaiah in Palm Springs is taking a wait and see approach. 

"My thought is this is that we have to do for our congregation at Temple Isaiah what is best for our congregation," said Rosenberg. 

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Tom Tucker

Tom Tucker is a veteran broadcast journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. Learn more about Tom here.

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