The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Friday night to lift California's restrictions on in-home religious gatherings to include Bible studies and prayer meetings.
In a 5-4 vote, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's three liberal members in dissent. The majority opinion pointed out that the federal appeals court has rejected the Ninth Circuit's analysis of California's COVID-related restrictions numerous times, The New York Times reports.
"This is the fifth time the court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit's analysis of California's Covid restrictions on religious exercise," the opinion said.
And the ruling stated that before limitations are implemented, the government must prove that religious gatherings present a greater risk than secular activities such as shopping or attending the movies.
"Otherwise, precautions that suffice for other activities suffice for religious exercise too," the majority opinion said, 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."
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Justice Elena Kagan, who did not agree with easing restrictions along with Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and John Roberts, noted in a dissenting opinion that the state has complied with the First Amendment because restrictions are in place for secular at-home gatherings.
"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. California need not...treat at-home religious gatherings the same as hardware stores and hair salons," she wrote.
The case was brought before the court after two residents of Santa Clara County wanted to host small, in-person Bible study meetings in their homes.
California has faced a string of lawsuits since the pandemic started after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) banned indoor worship, singing, and chanting.
The governor has been accused of religious discrimination because he hasn't applied the same standards and capacity limits to warehouses, big-box centers, shopping malls, liquor stores, fitness centers, and museums.
In February, the high court told California that it cannot ban indoor worship services - forcing Newsom to revise his guidelines on church gatherings indoors.