New Mexico and Colorado put limitations in place back in the spring and summer, respectively. And Nevada recently tightened its capacity restrictions even further to 25%.
New York City had similar restrictions earlier this year, but the Supreme Court ruled that such attendance limits at houses of worship violate the First Amendment.
“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,” the unsigned majority decision said. “Even in a pandemic, the constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”
This week, Colorado loosened its restrictions, now classifying worship and ceremonies such as weddings and funerals as essential.
“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,” the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a news release. “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.”
Brian Labus is an epidemiologist in Nevada. His state is sticking with its capacity cap so far.
“If there are no limitations, you could have really large gatherings of people, and that is always going to be a concern,” he said. “Plus, a lot of the things you do during a worship service are higher risk things in terms of disease transmission,” which can include projecting your voice while singing or praying as a group.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.