Supreme Court overturns California limit on in-home worship

small judge gavel placed on table near folders

Last Friday, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling which overturned a Covid-based restriction on how many people could attend in-home religious gatherings.

Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett formed the deciding majority opinion.

In the majority opinion, the justices said “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 to bring together more than three households at a time.”

The majority went on to say “The State cannot \assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work.”

The dissenting opinion was written by Justice Elana Kagan and joined by Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer. Kagan argued that it is not religious discrimination because the same standard was applied to in-home secular activities. She says “The First Amendment requires that a State treat religious conduct as well as the comparable secular conduct.” She goes on to say “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.”

It’s interesting that Kagan argues that if religious and secular activities are both given the same in-home restrictions, that it is compliance with the First Amendment.

The majority opinion included the line that “it is no answer that a State treats some comparable secular businesses or other activities as poorly as or even less favorably than the religious exercise at issue.”

Kagan argued that other businesses being open was not an apt comparison to in-home worship saying “California need not, as the per curiam [unsigned majority opinion] insists, treat at-home religious gatherings the same as hardware stores and hair salons—and thus unlike at-home secular gatherings, the obvious comparator here. As the per curiam’s reliance on separate opinions and unreasoned orders signals, the law does not require that the State equally treat apples and watermelons.”


Is it apples and watermelons? There are all sorts of places where people can legally congregate, but the State of California STILL wants to try to control what people do in their own home?

Have they not seen the numbers from other populous states like Florida or Texas? You can take reasonable precautions without controlling people’s lives.

Covid is serious. I’ve always believed that. But more than 100 million people have now been vaccinated. Millions more people have immunity from having had the virus. Treatments have improved.

I’m happy that the court made the decision that they made. I think it’s unfortunate that this was only 5-4 instead of 9-0.

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