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Supreme Court orders California to lift restrictions on at-home worship gatherings

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday issued an order blocking California from enforcing restrictions on in-home religious gatherings, including prayer meetings and Bible studies.

California’s rule that limits at-home religious gatherings to three households violates the First Amendment’s protection of religious exercise, the court ruled in a 5-4 unsigned order chiding the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for its failure to grant an injunction. 

“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 majority opinion stated. 

The Rev. Jeremy Wong and Karen Busch in Santa Clara County filed a motion seeking an injunction to the state’s rules.

Forming the majority were Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. The order noted that “this is the fifth time the Court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise.”

Numerous churches have challenged state and local COVID-19 restrictions on worship services and gatherings during the pandemic. The Supreme Court had earlier issued rulings against coronavirus-related restrictions in California and New York

“By contrast, the State allows countless other activities to take place outdoors without any numerical limitations, from weddings and funerals to secular cultural events and political rallies. It also permits more than three households to congregate inside buses, trains, universities, airports, barber shops, government offices, movie studios, tattoo parlors, salons, and other commercial venues.”

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