The U.S. Supreme Court handed churches and the faith community another major victory Friday, ruling that California’s restrictions on at-home Bible studies during the pandemic likely violate the U.S. Constitution and cannot be enforced.
The court, by a 5-4 vote, issued an injunction against California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his administration, blocking the enforcement of restrictions that limit at-home gatherings to three families.
The Center for American Liberty and Eimer Stahl LLP had challenged the restrictions on behalf of a pastor and other families, arguing that the state’s rules violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. They lost at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals before appealing to the Supreme Court.
In a four-page order Friday, the Supreme Court said the plaintiffs “likely” will succeed in their free exercise of religion claim.
The state’s restrictions, the court said, are not neutral.
“California treats some comparable secular activities more favorably than at-home religious exercise, 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,” the unsigned order said.
The high court also criticized the Ninth Circuit’s decision.
“Instead of requiring the State to explain why it could not safely permit at-home worshipers to gather in larger numbers while using precautions used in secular activities, the Ninth Circuit erroneously declared that such measures might not ‘translate readily’ to the home,” the order said. “The State cannot ‘assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work.”
Although the restrictions were set to expire, the Supreme Court said it was necessary to issue the ruling due to California officials who have a “track record” of “moving the goalposts.”