Supreme Court Blocks Pandemic Restrictions On In-Home Religious Gatherings

By Bill Galluccio

April 10, 2021

In a divided 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court's decision and ruled that California cannot impose limits that restricted in-home religious gatherings. California was sued by a Santa Clara County pastor, who argued that coronavirus rules prohibiting gatherings of people from more than three households violated his First Amendment rights by preventing his weekly Bible study group from meeting.

The majority wrote that California cannot prevent people from attending religious gatherings in their own homes while allowing businesses to remain open.

"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," the majority wrote in the unsigned opinion.

"The State cannot assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work," they wrote.

The dissent was written by Justice Elena Kagan, who argued that in-home gatherings are not analogous to businesses and other public places.

"The First Amendment requires that a State treat religious conduct as well as the State treats comparable secular conduct. Sometimes finding the right secular analogue may raise hard questions. But not today. 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."

It was the fifth time the Supreme Court has overturned a decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals relating to coronavirus restrictions.

Photo: Getty Images

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