Supreme Court lifts California’s pandemic ban on in-home religious gatherings

Justices also rebuke federal appeals court for repeatedly refusing to follow their legal guidance during pandemic.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Friday night that California cannot ban in-home religious services while allowing other similar activities in the secular world, once again ruling in favor of religious liberty in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 5-4 ruling was led by the court’s most conservative justices, including newest member Amy Coney Barrett, while Chief Justice John Robert’s once again joined the liberal bloc as he has during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“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 opinion stated.

You can read the full ruling here.

The decision overruled the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had upheld the ban. The majority rebuked the lower court for ignoring its earlier guidance in rulings siding with religious liberty over pandemic restrictions.

“This is the fifth time the court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise,” they wrote.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissent, saying the majority was wrong to compare in-home prayer meetings with other secular activities.

The state does not need to “treat at-home religious gatherings the same as hardware stores and hair salons,” she argued.