The Supreme Court ruled late on Friday in favor of removing restrictions on in-home religious gatherings, overturning a previous ruling by a lower court.
The 5-4 ruling, dissented by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer, follows other coronavirus restriction related cases heard by the Court.
The ruling states that before a government can limit religious gatherings, they must prove that they pose a greater risk than other non-religious activities, like going to the mall or eating at a restaurant.
“Otherwise, precautions that suffice for other activities suffice for religious exercise too,” said the majority opinion, also adding that 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 dining at restaurants to bring together more than three households at a time.”
The ruling also added that the state cannot “assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work.”
“(California) has adopted a blanket restriction on at-home gatherings of all kinds, religious and secular alike,” said Kagan in the dissent of the ruling. “The law does not require that the State equally treat apples and watermelons.”
A federal judge had ruled against the plaintiffs, which was upheld by the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.
“The state reasonably concluded that when people gather in social settings, their interactions are likely to be longer than they would be in a commercial setting; that participants in a social gathering are more likely to be involved in prolonged conversations; that private houses are typically smaller and less ventilated than commercial establishments; and that social distancing and mask-wearing are less likely in private settings and enforcement is more difficult,” said the Ninth Circuit in their ruling.