In mid-September, the city allowed for outdoor worship services to accommodate 50 people at once, but still allowed only one person at a time inside a church building. After the Justice Department told the city its rules might be unconstitutional, San Francisco then allowed for indoor worship at 25% capacity.
Then in November, the state determined that San Francisco and San Mateo counties were among the areas at highest risk of COVID-19 spread. Under the state rules, the counties could not allow indoor worship services—although other businesses such as hair and nail salons, massage parlors, and tattoo parlors could remain open.
Critics of the order noted that religious worship was being treated more harshly than were secular activities.
A week before Christmas, the archbishop said he instructed priests to offer Mass indoors “if weather or safety required it,” in contravention of the state order against indoor worship.
“I knew my people had to have access to the Eucharist, rain or shine,” he said in his op-ed. Archbishop Cordileone noted that he instituted safety measures for indoor Masses, including an attendance cap at 20% capacity and requirements to wear masks and socially distance.
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On Feb. 5, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that California’s ban on indoor worship was unconstitutional. The court ruled that the state could limit indoor capacity at worship services to 25% capacity at most, while allowing the state to ban singing at liturgies.
At the time of the ruling, the state had put nearly all counties in its top tier of restrictions reserved for areas with the worst spread of the virus. Thus, the state had a near-total ban on indoor worship.
Cordileone called the decision a “very significant step forward for basic rights.”