The Supreme Court late Friday blocked California’s ban on large in-home religious gatherings and faulted the state for treating religious activities more harshly than similar secular activity.
In a 5-4 decision, the justices cited First Amendment concerns in granting the injunction requested by the petitioners, the Rev. Jeremy Wong and Karen Busch, who conducted religious services in their home in Santa Clara County.
“They are irreparably harmed by the loss of free exercise rights,” the court‘s opinion read.
California unlawfully treats some secular activities more favorably than religious activities in the home, the court reasoned. Hair salons, stores, theaters, and restaurants can bring in thousands of people, but a prohibition on large prayer groups meeting in a home remained in place.
The justices also said the lower court didn’t show that the religious activities pose a greater risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., a Bush appointee, sided with the court‘s three Democratic appointees in voting to uphold the ban.
Justice Elena Kagan, an Obama-appointee, issued a dissent and was joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Stephen G. Breyer. She said the state limited all in-home gatherings to only three households, not treating religious activities differently.
“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,” she wrote.
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