The Supreme Court on Friday blocked California’s Covid-19 restrictions on religious gatherings in private homes in a nightly order religious rights in a 5-4 vote.
The decision, in which Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the three dissenting Liberal justices, marks the fifth time the Supreme Court has sided with religious supporters protesting California laws designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. And it underscores how Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s replacement of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in November led the Supreme Court to lift state Covid-19 restrictions on religious services.
The unsigned majority opinion argued that California law, which restricts both religious and non-religious gatherings in private homes to no more than three households, unfairly treats religious gatherings in light of the allowances for commercial gatherings. “California treats some similar secular activities more cheaply than religious exercises at home, and allows hair salons, retail stores, personal care services, cinemas, private suites for sporting events and concerts, and indoor restaurants,” the statement said.
In her contradiction, Justice Elena Kagan, along with Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, wrote that the majority opinion was making the wrong comparison between different activities: “The first change requires that a state treat religious behavior in the same way as the state treats comparable secular behavior. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the right worldly analogue. But not today.”
The courts have divided over how California law treats commercial space differently from private homes
In her contradiction, Kagan stated that California law does not single out religious gatherings, it simply treats all home gatherings differently than commercial space.
“California limits religious meetings in private homes to three households. Even if the state restricts all secular home gatherings to three households, it has adhered to the first amendment. And the state is doing just that: it has put a blanket restriction on gatherings at home of all kinds, both religious and secular, ”she wrote.
The reason for the restrictions on households that do not apply to commercial space is that gatherings in private homes are categorically riskier due to the more intimate way people gather in them.
This argument was in line with the majority opinion of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which the Supreme Court ultimately rejected.
In that statement, Judges Milan Smith Jr. and Bridget Bade wrote that it made sense for California law to treat commercial and non-commercial spaces differently: “The state reasonably concluded that their interactions are likely to be longer when people are together gather in social settings than they would be in a commercial setting; that participants in a social gathering are more likely to be involved in lengthy conversations; that private homes are typically smaller and less ventilated than commercial facilities; and that social distancing and wearing of masks in private settings are less likely and more difficult to enforce. “
The case that led to the decision was brought forward by two Santa Clara County residents who said the Covid-19 restrictions violated their freedom of speech by preventing Bible study and prayer hours with eight to 12 people.
Barrett changed the Supreme Court’s view of worship
The Supreme Court’s decision in their favor is a reminder of how Barrett’s arrival changed the ideological makeup of the court and its prospects for clashes between states and supporters to minimize state restrictions on religious gatherings after Covid-19.
Before Ginsburg’s death last year, legal analyst Adam Liptak noted in the New York Times that the Supreme Court allowed California and Nevada to restrict attendance and Roberts, the chief judge, sided with what was then a liberal contingent of four judges .
But that pattern changed after Barrett’s arrival last fall, and the Supreme Court blocked New York’s restrictions on religious services.
Conservative activists affected by the Covid-19 restrictions hailed Friday’s Supreme Court ruling as a victory for justice and freedom of religion.
That the State of California believes it should be able to regulate who can pray together in private homes is almost as appalling as the desire of all the brainwashed fauci who worship sheep for more arbitrary, authoritarian COVID rules to ” safe “https: // t .co / 55fy62CyHc
– Buck Sexton (@BuckSexton) April 10, 2021
Meanwhile, commentators on the left have said it was not about religious freedom, but about an emerging culture war over the status of religion in American life. In a New Republic article on the trend in new Conservative majority decisions on Covid-19 and religion, Katherine Stewart writes that recent legal interventions by the Supreme Court are aimed at “validating a false underlying narrative of religious persecution in America.”