Church asking Supreme Court for relief from Democratic governor’s COVID restrictions

A Colorado church is petitioning the Supreme Court for relief from COVID restrictions in the Centennial State, arguing that churches are treated less favorably than other establishments under the rules.

The High Plains Harvest Church and its pastor, Mark Hotaling, are seeking an injunction against a 50-person limit on houses of worship under Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Department of Health and Environment Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan, pending an appellate review.

“The linchpin of the State’s attempted justification for discriminating against churches in favor of secular uses is that somehow churches are uniquely risky environments for spread of COVID-19,” the petition reads. “But the data are profoundly at odds with the State’s position.”

In this Nov. 24 photo, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis makes a point during a news conference in Denver about the state’s response to the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases. Polis joined the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dec. 1, and urged people to wear masks and socially distance to help prevent stay-at-home orders and overwhelmed hospitals as cases of the coronavirus surge during the holidays. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Based on geography, the petition will go to Justice Neil Gorsuch – who can choose to act alone on the matter or refer it to the full court.

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Last week, in an opinion siding with Brooklyn’s Catholic Diocese against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus restrictions in areas facing spikes in new cases, Gorsuch chose strong words to defend religious freedom protections under the First Amendment.

“Government is not free to disregard the First Amendment in times of crisis,” he wrote in a concurring opinion. “At a minimum, that Amendment prohibits government officials from treating religious exercises worse than comparable secular activities, unless they are pursuing a compelling interest and using the least restrictive means available… Yet recently, during the COVID pandemic, certain States seem to have ignored these long-settled principles.”

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States need to keep those principles in mind when drafting coronavirus precautions, he said.

“While the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques,” he wrote.

Fox News’ Bill Mears and Shannon Bream contributed to this report.