Supreme Court Again Blocks California Covid Restriction on Religious Activities

Supreme Court to hear cases by telephone for the remainder of the current session

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The unsigned high court majority order also exposed the deep ideological rift, with the Tories (including the three people appointed by former President Donald Trump) in charge and the bitterly dissident Liberals.

Chief Justice John Roberts was also dissenting, although he did not sign the Three Left Judges Declaration, drafted by Judge Elena Kagan.

“To order California to weaken its restrictions on home gatherings, the majority once again insist on treating different cases, not like those, equivalently,” Kagan wrote, adding that “the law does not not require the state to also treat apples and watermelons. . “

“And (the majority) are once again ordering California to ignore the scientific findings of its experts, thereby undermining the state’s efforts to deal with a public health emergency.” “

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, worshipers have pleaded with judges to prevent certain state health restrictions affecting religious services and they have notably prevailed since the October addition of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, succeeding the Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Friday’s order, issued just before midnight, stemmed from a California ban on gathering people from more than three households and affected some Bible study and prayer meetings held in one home.

“California treats some comparable secular activities more favorably than home religious exercise,” the Supreme Court majority said in the order, “allowing barbershops, retail stores, personal care services, cinemas, private suites at sporting events and concerts, and indoor restaurants to accommodate more than three households at a time. “

The court said a lower US appeals court had “wrongly dismissed” this comparison, based on earlier high court decisions involving public buildings, as opposed to private buildings. The majority acknowledged that California officials were changing the contested policy on April 15, but said such “officials with a history of goal post movement retain the power to reinstate these increased restrictions at any time.”

Referring to the lower court of appeals that had authorized the California household restriction, the majority added: “This is the fifth time the (Supreme) Court has summarily dismissed the Ninth Circuit analysis of California’s COVID restrictions. on religious exercise. “

The majority were Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Barrett.

The court order noted that Roberts would have dismissed the challengers’ request to intervene for high court intervention.

Supreme Court to hear cases by telephone for the remainder of the current session

In his dissent, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, Kagan wrote: “The First Amendment requires that a state treats religious conduct as well as the state treats comparable secular conduct. Sometimes finding the right secular analogue can raise difficult questions. But not today. California limits religious gatherings in homes to three homes. While the state also restricts all secular gatherings in homes to three homes, it has complied with the First Amendment. And that is exactly what the state is doing: it has enacted a blanket restriction on home gatherings of all kinds, religious and secular. Kagan noted that lower court judges have found that when people congregate in social settings, their interactions are likely to be longer than in a commercial setting and involve extended conversations. Private homes are likely less ventilated. she noted, with fewer masks. Kagan concluded: “Because the majority continue to disregard the law and the facts, I respectfully disagree …” In the case before the judges Santa Clara County Pastor Jeremy Wong and Karen Busch said the restrictions violated their First Amendment rights by preventing their usual weekly Bible study and prayer sessions with eight to 12 people. Their request for emergency response, they declared that they “sincerely believe that coming together for a fellowship in small groups, a” house church “is just as essential to their faith q uattending mass is for a Catholic. Yet, for over a year now, California has completely banned or severely restricted these “gatherings” and many others. “” In contrast, “according to their request to the court,” the state allows countless other activities to take place outdoors without any numerical limitations, from weddings and funerals to secular cultural events and political gatherings. It also allows more than three households to congregate inside. buses, trains, universities, airports, hair salons, government offices, movie studios, tattoo parlors, salons and other commercial places. “But California state officials, as they urged judges not to get involved, said the limit on members of more than three households was” completely neutral to religion “and applied to gatherings for any purpose, secular or religious.” In any event, “lawyers for Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom told the High Court,” the state recently announced that the contested policy would be significantly amended April 15. … Given improving rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, as well as the growing number of individuals vaccinated, the state will significantly ease its restrictions on multi-household gatherings. ”

The case is Tandon v Newsom.

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