SCOTUS Opinion: Court Lifts Restrictions On In-Home Religious Gatherings

As part of its effort to combat COVID-19, California enacted a policy limiting in-home religious gatherings to no more than three households. Several California pastors filed suit and asked that the courts enter an injunction preventing the application of the policy as a violation of their First Amendment religious rights. The district court and the Ninth Circuit rejected the application, noting that California had an identical restriction on secular in-home gatherings.

The Court, in a 5-4 per curiam decision, reversed, holding that an injunction should have been entered because the Court’s prior decisions had already made clear that California’s decision to treat other secular activities more leniently prevented it from treating religious gatherings less favorably, even when some secular gatherings were also restricted, stressing the “heightened scrutiny” that applies when religious restrictions are implemented.

Chief Justice Roberts noted that he would have denied the application, but said nothing further. Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor, dissented, arguing that California’s equal limitation on secular in-home gatherings was sufficiently comparable to constitute equal treatment.

A link to the opinion in Tandon v. Newsom is here: