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The Supreme Court imposes yet another pandemic restriction on religious services

Constitutional protection is implied whenever a state treats “any similar secular activity more favorably than religious practice,” the majority wrote. “It is no answer that a state treats some comparable secular corporations or other activities as poorly or even less favorably than the religious exercise in question.”

In this case, the majority said gatherings of more than three households were banned at home prayer meetings, though California allows “hair salons, shops, personal care, movie theaters, private suites for sporting events and concerts, and indoor restaurants to gather more than three households at a time. . ”

The opinion was unsigned, but the majority consisted of Barrett and Judges Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. stated that the court should not have issued an emergency charge challenging the restrictions, but did not explain his reasoning. Judge Elena Kagan wrote a biting dissent for the court’s Liberals.

The first amendment requires a state to treat religious behavior as well as treat comparable secular behavior, Kagan wrote.

California “does just that,” she wrote – it passed a limited restriction on home meetings to three households, “both religious and secular.”

“California does not have to be like that [majority] insists on treating religious gatherings at home the same as hardware stores and hair salons – and unlike secular gatherings at home, the obvious comparator here, ”Kagan wrote.

“The law does not require the state to treat apples and watermelons equally,” she wrote with judges Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The challenge was brought by pastors Jeremy Wong and Karen Busch of Santa Clara County, who said the restrictions prevented their usual weekly Bible study and prayer. The couple “sincerely believe that it is as indispensable for their faith to gather in a small group of” house church “communities as to attend Mass is for a Catholic,” they said in their petition to the court.

The question of when state restrictions have been imposed to curb the pandemic unreasonably restricts religious activity has sharply divided the court.

Before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, Roberts and Liberal judges formed a majority that generally left the matter to elected officials, saying judges did not have the expertise or power to override decisions made with public health in mind.

But the more conservative members of the court protested, saying it was an abolition of the court’s responsibility. “In certain quarters, religious freedom is fast becoming an unfavorable right,” Alito said in a speech to The Federalist Society.

After the death of the liberal Ginsburg and the confirmation of the conservative Barrett to her place on the field, the dynamics changed. The new majority was given restrictions on religious services in New York, introduced by the government of Andrew M. Cuomo (D), and has continued this pattern ever since.

Friday’s majority statement, issued just before midnight, expressed impatience both with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which maintained the restriction of the household, and with California officials led by Gavin Newsom (D).

“This is the fifth time the court has briefly rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s covide restrictions on religious practice,” the majority said. The Ninth Circuit is often held up as a liberal outlier, even though the judges who ruled for California in this case were nominated by Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump, respectively.

And the majority rejected California’s plea to stay out of the case because the restrictions were constantly changing based on infection rates, and they are scheduled to expire.

“Although California officials changed the challenged policy shortly after this application was filed, the previous restrictions remain in effect until April 15, and officials with a track record of moving the target posts retain authority to reintroduce these increased restrictions at all times. , “the statement said.

The challengers’ are irreparably harmed by the loss of free exercise rights’ in even minimal periods’; and the state has not shown that ‘public health would be threatened’ by applying less restrictive measures, “the statement said, referring to the precedents it said were created in the New York case.

That’s the case in California Tandon v. Newsom.

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