Supreme Court strikes down Governor Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 restrictions on religious gatherings

Late Friday April 9th, 2021 the Supreme Court awarded California pastors with their request to lift Covid-19 related restrictions on Bible Study and prayer meetings because they found that the regulations violate the Frist Amendment’s protections of religion.

This isn’t the first case that has been brought to the courts but this particular case was made by Santa Clara County pastor Jere Wong and Karen Busch. They both said that the restrictions were violating their first amendment rights to free exercise because it was preventing their weekly Bible study and prayer sessions that were typically held with 8 – 12 individuals.

The California law currently limits both religious and non-religious gatherings in homes to no more than three households. The request that was sent to the court stated, “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”. The other side of that argument made by Justice Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer was that California’s law does single out religious gatherings because the law treats at home gatherings differently than commercial spaces. “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,”Kagan explains. She categorized at-home gatherings as “riskier”.

The vote by the supreme court ended in a majority vote of 5-4 which declared that California had violated the Constitution by disfavoring prayer meetings. Jude Patrick J. Bumatay made a strong argument in the direction of the right to worship. He wrote “The one thing California cannot do is privilege tattoo parlors over Bible Studies when loosening house limitations.” He continued by saying “The Constitution shields churches, synagogues and mosques not because of their magnificent architecture or superlative acoustics, but because they are a sanctuary for religious observers to practice their faith and that religious practice is worthy of protection.”

The state’s attorneys responded that the state’s policy “is entirely neutral toward religion; it applies to gathering for any purpose – secular or religious”. They also stated that the restrictions will be significantly modified by April 15th and will allow services up to 25 people. They wrote that the updated restrictions will “fully accommodate the gatherings that the plaintiffs wish to host.”

Justice Amy Coney Barrett helped the courts rule in the favor of the church tremendously. Before Mrs. Barrett the odds stacked against the church and religious freedoms. Just last year prior to the arrival of Amy Barrett the Supreme Court voted to allow governors the right to restrict the attendance at religious services.



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