For those keeping score at home, this is SCOTUS COVID loss #5 for California’s Mousse-olini.
In a Supreme Court decision split along party lines with the five conservative Justices, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Coney-Barrett ruling that the state government can’t limit in-home religious gatherings, while liberal Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor dissented. Along with the liberal Justices was (as usual) Chief Justice John Roberts who can be counted on to join his left-leaning colleagues.
The late Friday ruling has lifted California’s restrictions on religious gatherings — such as prayer meetings, Bible studies, and other small-group religious gatherings in private homes.
The ruling is consistent with other recent decisions that SCOTUS has made regarding churches and coronavirus restrictions.
This was the fifth time the Supreme Court has rejected the Ninth Circuit’s decision regarding COVID restrictions in California.
The unsigned majority opinion expressed impatience with the federal appeals court in California, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, saying it had repeatedly disregarded the Supreme Court’s instructions. “This is the fifth time the court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s Covid restrictions on religious exercise,” the opinion said.
The majority said California had violated the Constitution by disfavoring prayer meetings. “California treats some comparable secular activities more favorably than at-home religious exercise, permitting hair salons, retail stores, personal care services, movie theaters, private suites at sporting events and concerts and indoor restaurants,” the opinion said.
Source: New York Times
Rev. Jeremy Wong and Karen Busch, residents of Santa Clara County, who held religious services in their homes said that their Constitutional right to exercise their religion was infringed by the state’s restrictions which limited all indoor gatherings to no more than three households.
A federal judge ruled against them stating that all private gatherings were limited regardless of whether or not they were religious.
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit was divided on the issue while an appeal moved forward. Two judges said that it didn’t matter that some commercial activities were treated more favorably than private in-home gatherings because the state “reasonably concluded” that gatherings in social settings generally last longer than gatherings for commercial purposes. In a dissent, Judge Patrick J. Bumatay wrote, “The one thing California cannot do is privilege tattoo parlors over Bible studies when loosening household limitations.”
“The Constitution shields churches, synagogues and mosques not because of their magnificent architecture or superlative acoustics, but because they are a sanctuary for religious observers to practice their faith,” he wrote. “And that religious practice is worthy of protection no matter where it happens.”
The challengers, when asking the Supreme Court to intervene, said that the question wasn’t whether or not “in-home birthday parties or Super Bowl gatherings” were limited along with in-home religious services, but whether those in-home religious activities were treated worse than “shopping, travel on public transportation and personal care.”
The ruling stated that before it can limit religious gatherings, the government must prove they pose a greater danger than secular activities that remain open, such as shopping or attending movies.
Otherwise, precautions that suffice for other activities suffice for religious exercise too,” the majority opinion said, adding that California “treats some comparable secular activities more favorably than at-home religious exercise, permitting hair salons, retail stores, personal care services, movie theaters, private suites at sporting events and concerts and indoor dining at restaurants to bring together more than three households at a time.”
The latest ruling quoted a previous one that said that state restrictions should not “assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work.”
Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissenting opinion that the state has complied with the First Amendment because it limits non-religious gatherings in homes to no more than three households.
California “has adopted a blanket restriction on at-home gatherings of all kinds, religious and secular alike,” she wrote in the dissent joined by Sotomayor and Breyer.
“The law does not require that the State equally treat apples and watermelons,” Kagan wrote, saying that in-home gatherings shouldn’t be compared to businesses.
The lawsuit had been brought by residents in Santa Clara County who hold in-home religious meetings and claimed the restrictions infringed on their constitutional rights, according to The New York Times.
Source: Fox News
Justice Kagan’s dissent didn’t even address the issue that the challengers brought forward and instead just said that the two can’t be compared. She thinks it’s fine for the government to prioritize commercial activity but not religious gatherings. Essentially Kagan said the government can impose restrictions to not permit a Bible study with people from more than three households, but at the same time remove restrictions so that someone in California can get a tattoo because that’s somehow a “safer” activity.
While Chief Justice Roberts didn’t sign the dissent written by Justice Kagan, he did agree that the government has the right to limit worship in your own home.
Thank God for Justice Coney Barrett!