US Supreme Court Blocks California Restriction on In-Home Religious Gatherings

The U.S. Supreme Court. (Courthouse News photo/Jack Rodgers)

(CN) — In a 5-4 ruling late Friday night, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California can’t restrict home-based religious gatherings such as prayer meetings and Bible groups.

The ruling stems from the state’s restriction of gatherings of more than three households held in a private residence. The high court’s conservatives voted to lift the restriction with the exception of Chief Justice John Roberts, who joined the dissent with the court’s liberal members.

“California treats some comparable secular activities more favorably than at-home religious exercise,” the order states, “permitting hair salons, retail stores, personal care services, movie theaters, private suites at sporting events and concerts, and indoor restaurants to bring together more than three households at a time.” 

This is not the first time the Supreme Court has reversed a decision on California coronavirus restrictions, as noted in Friday’s order.

“This is the fifth time the (Supreme) Court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise.”

The decision came forth from a lawsuit brought by Santa Clara County pastor Jeremy Wong and Karen Busch. They claim the restrictions violated their First Amendment rights by halting their weekly Bible and prayer sessions of up to 12 people.

In a dissent written by Justice Elena Kagan and signed by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, Kagan said the conservative majority on the high court was interfering with state leaders’ ability to contain the virus.

“California limits religious gatherings in homes to three households. If the State also limits all secular gatherings in homes to three households, it has complied with the First Amendment. And the State does exactly that: It has adopted a blanket restriction on at-home gatherings of all kinds, religious and secular alike. California need not … treat at-home religious gatherings the same as hardware stores and hair salons,” she wrote.

The ruling comes as California next week will change its policy on social gatherings as more residents are receiving vaccines.

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