The Supreme Court is seen at sundown in Washington, Friday afternoon, Nov. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

High Court Halts California Virus Rules Limiting Home Worship

By Jessica Gresko

The Supreme Court is telling California that it can’t enforce coronavirus-related restrictions that have limited home-based religious worship including Bible studies and prayer meetings.

The order from the court late Friday is the latest in a recent string of cases in which the high court has barred officials from enforcing some coronavirus-related restrictions applying to religious gatherings.

Five conservative justices agreed that California restrictions that apply to in-home religious gatherings should be lifted for now, while the court’s three liberals and Chief Justice John Roberts would not have done so.

California has already, however, announced significant changes loosening restrictions on gatherings that go into effect April 15. The changes come after infection rates have gone down in the state.

The case before the justices involved California rules that in most of the state limit indoor social gatherings to no more than three households. Attendees are required to wear masks and physically distance from one another. Different restrictions apply to places including schools, grocery stores and churches.

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“California treats some comparable secular activities more favorably than at-home religious exercise,” allowing hair salons, retail stores, and movie theaters, among other places, “to bring together more than three households at a time,” the unsigned order from the court said. A lower court “did not conclude that those activities pose a lesser risk of transmission than applicants’ proposed religious exercise at home,” it said.

The court acknowledged that California’s policy on gatherings will change next week but said the restrictions remain in place until then and that “officials with a track record of ‘moving the goalposts’ retain authority to reinstate those heightened restrictions at any time.”

Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissent for herself and her liberal colleagues, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, that the court’s majority was hurting state officials’ ability to address a public health emergency.

“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. She added that “the law does not require that the State equally treat apples and watermelons.”

The case before the justices involved two residents of Santa Clara County in the San Francisco Bay Area, who want to host small, in-person Bible study sessions in their homes. In an email message Saturday, one of their lawyers, Ryan J. Walsh, said he and his colleagues were “thrilled beyond words” for their clients.

California had defended its policy of restricting social gatherings as “entirely neutral.”

The court has dealt with a string of cases in which religious groups have challenged coronavirus restrictions impacting worship services. While early in the pandemic the court sided with state officials over the objection of religious groups, that changed following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last September and her replacement by conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

In November, the high court barred New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by the virus. And in February, the high court told California that it can’t bar indoor church services because of the coronavirus pandemic, though it let stand for now a ban on singing and chanting indoors.

Jessica GreskoJessica Gresko is an Associated Press reporter, covering the Supreme Court.



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16 thoughts on “High Court Halts California Virus Rules Limiting Home Worship”

  1. For very long time now I have felt very badly for the residents of California as they have had to endure the beyond evil state and local governments that are in place there. If ever there was a state in our country that incorporates Satanism into its legislative body, it’s California. I live in the second state in our country that incorporates Satanism into its legislative body, and it’s Illinois.

    1. California is looking to have everything open at full capacity in 2 months. Those who like feeling persecuted may be disappointed at this.

      1. Yes! California plans to stop persecuting people in a couple of months. So, nobody should have thought anything tyrannical had ever been going on at all. Christians need to learn to shut up as Jesus would have them do. Temporary persecution isn’t the same things as real persecution. Everyone with common sense knows that tyranny has to last for several years for it to be considered real.

        1. Fortunately for those who are physically weak and vulnerable, the tyrants have been concerned about their well-being, even if it cost them politically. Seems like a lot of Christians are “pro-life” until their lives are disrupted.

          1. Seems like a lot of people purposely redefine the term “pro-life” to mean something different so that they can try to accuse Christians of being hypocrites.

            Most people who claim to be “pro-life” mean it in the sense of “anti-murder” rather than “pro-nanny-state-that-keeps-us-locked-in-our-homes-to-save-us-from-viruses”

            In reality, all Christians are “anti-murder,” however they seem to be split on the second issue. Some Christians seem to be big fans of a large protectionist government, while others think it to be bad.

          2. My point is that you seem more concerned about your personal freedoms, while the government has been acting to save lives as much as possible. To think this was all being done to target Christians, when everyone has had the same restrictions is incredibly myopic.

          3. (I can’t tell if this will post in chronological order. This is in response to lmartin’s 5:32pm comment.)

            Right. I do not believe it is the government’s job to save lives from Covid as much as possible (as if there are no other factors to consider) especially if that means destroying people’s livelihoods, treating them like prisoners, and restricting their relationships, worship, and even their mobility for months/years. In fact, once one believes that that is government’s role, it could be used to justify even stricter restrictions on even lesser diseases. After all, every life matters. I’m not sure, in principle, why people ought not advocate for governments to maintain restrictions permanently to save the many lives lost EVERY year to other respiratory illnesses. If saving as many lives as possible is the goal, then they SHOULD do that.

            So, I suppose we could just agree to disagree on whether governments ought to intervene in these ways.

            However, the other thing you said seems to reveal a misunderstanding. I never said “this was all being done to target Christians.” It seems to me the government overreach in places like California have been perpetrated on everyone regardless of what they believe. And I feel bad for all of them – Christian and non-Christian alike.

          4. Joy…your point is articulate and well said. Thank you for sharing.

            And it does seem that when people don’t believe in God or that He will take care of them, they replace God with the government.

            Then governments seem (like in CA) that they need to think for the people, instead of seeing their people can think…that is when government overreach can occur.

    2. An interesting point—the Antichrist spirit can occur in any gov’t, you’re likely seeing it at play in CA and IL. But at the same time, God is moving in those places. There are churches praying for Chicago and moving in the Gospel. In CA people are hungry for the Gospel. Pastor Mario Murillo led an open air revival in Bakersfield, CA. He is leading another in April in Modesto CA. Unbelievers are coming because they’re hungry.

      The enemy is moving in these places. But the Holy Spirit and Christ are moving too.

  2. People who think they are persecuted for having to follow stay at home orders in a pandemic need to learn more about persecution.

    1. Headless Unicorn Guy

      “All who live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer Persecution.”
      And if there’s no Persecution, they’ll make their own.
      Just to congratulate themselves on how Faithful and Godly they are.

      Something similar happened some 1600 years ago, when Christianity went overnight from an underground outlaw religion to a legal (heading towards state) religion and official persecution ceased. How then to “suffer Persecution” as a REAL Christian?
      One was to persecute yourself as an ascetic monastic until you’re gargling lye alongside (the much later example) St Rose of Lima.
      Another was to leave the safe civilized world as missionary to Those Heathens and “let Bubba do it” for you.

      Someone (I think Wondering Eagle) coined the term “Persecution Porn” for this live role-playing game of seeing PERSECUTION under every bed.

      I DO know in attempts at Christian SF, the dominating setting is Near Future Persecution Dystopia. Even the Christian Cyberpunk trlogy by the founder of the Lost Genre Guild (which was trying to break out of the Christianese stranglehold) was set in a Near Future Persecution Dystopia. Don’t know if links work here, but my writing partner’s blog has a guest editorial that confirms that the ONLY SF Christians are supposed to write is Near Future Persecution Dystopia with End Times tie-in. (And it all reads like bad fanfic — GO MAINSTREAM IF YOU CAN!)

  3. WWJI*?

    Just points out the character of these “open at all costs” churches and “pastors” who don’t give a fig for the public welfare or the safety of others. We see you. We know you.

    And, folks, elections have consequences…

    (*Who Would Jesus Infect?)

  4. Not all who want less restrictions in CA have a proud attitude about it like John MacArthur. And they are are not against doing things that might decrease infections.

    However, there is still the possibility of government over-reach. Which is not showing they truly care about the public welfare of all their people, but perhaps more about their power and agenda?

    Some restrictions can be wise and necessary, especially in a pandemic.

    However, we can say “I smell a rat,” whether it’s a proud religious person or a government authority figure.

  5. I live in California and I’ve watched as authorities have mostly tried to do the best they can to contain the virus without excessively limiting people’s freedoms. I think overall they have done pretty well in a very difficult situation. Many religious groups, on the other hand, have acted completely selfishly and flaunted even basic health regulations, then cried persecution when the state tries to enforce rules for the common good. It’s been sickening to watch people who should be caring for the least of those among us act like selfish jerks.

    The minority opinion in this case was right. There’s no double standard going on; these kinds of gatherings were regulated regardless of whether they were religious or secular. But now that we have a majority of the SCOTUS that caters to religious extremists, we get decisions like this. And we have that court because of an act of ultimate hypocrisy by Mitch McConnell, who rammed Barrett’s nomination through just weeks before the election. Did the religious types call out that hypocrisy? Nope, because they were chasing power. Well, now they have power and almost weekly we see abuses of it like this that will ultimately harm or even kill others.

    BTW, I’m not an atheist or an anti-Christian. I’m a believer with a seminary degree who is sickened by what American white evangelicalism has done to corrupt a faith that should be at the forefront of protecting the vulnerable and loving its neighbors.

    1. Headless Unicorn Guy

      With crap like that going down, about all you can do is save yourself — get vaccinated even if it WILL rewrite your DNA and turn you into a Nephilim. (No joke – I actually heard that one on the radio a couple nights ago.)

      (Well, the Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation IS basically “Every Man for Himself!”)

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