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COVID Purple Tier: U.S. Supreme Court Allows California's COVID Restrictions On Churches To Stand For Now

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) -- With new COVID cases soaring and indoor religious services banned across the San Francisco Bay Area, the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday ordered a lower federal court to reexamine the state's COVID restrictions on religious services in areas hard hit by the coronavirus.

Currently, indoor religious services are prohibited in counties in the state's Purple Tier of the COVID monitoring system. The only Bay Area county not in purple is Marin County.

San Francisco Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has been an outspoken critic of the restrictions.

"After weeks of demonstrating we can celebrate the Mass safely, the state of California has put San Francisco and San Mateo Counties into the purple tier, which bans indoor worship altogether," Archbishop Cordileone wrote to parishioners. "The order lumps religious worship with non-essential indoor activities such as gyms, movie theaters, and museums. At the same time, the health order allows for indoor retail at 25 percent capacity and permits massage parlors, hair and nail salons, and tattoo parlors to operate indoors. This is precisely the kind of blatant discrimination to which the Supreme Court gave injunctive relief in New York."

The high court's unsigned order, with no noted dissent, leaves the California restrictions in place for now. But it throws out a federal district court ruling that rejected a challenge to the limits from Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, which has more than 160 churches across the state.

Last week, the Supreme Court split 5-4 in holding that New York could not enforce certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues.

With a sharp increase in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, Gov. Gavin Newsom has put most of the state under heightened restrictions, which include a ban on indoor singing and chanting.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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