The Supreme Court tossed out a Covid-19 regulation installed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, that limited home religious gatherings to no more than three households.
The recent ruling in Tandon v. Newsom represents the fifth time in a matter of months that the Court has ruled against Newsom's Covid-19 regulations aimed at restricting religious worship (see also See Harvest Rock Church v. Newsom, South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, Gish v. Newsom, and Gateway City Church v. Newsom).
The Court said the state of California cannot arbitrarily treat home religious gatherings differently than other types of gatherings.
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.Supreme Court, Tandon v. Newsom, April 9
The Court's recent rulings against Newsom referenced another case decided against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, last November.
Cuomo had limited attendance at religious services to 10 or 25 people depending on what "zone" they were in. Meanwhile, "essential" businesses could admit as many people as they wished.
Under the Cuomo order, essential services included large retail stores where hundreds of people could be admitted at once, acupuncture facilities, campgrounds, and garages; as well as many businesses whose services were not limited to those that can be regarded as essential, such as all plants that manufacture chemicals and microelectronics, and all transportation facilities.
The Supreme Court stopped New York from enforcing Cuomo's executive order in that case.
Where the government permits other activities to proceed with precautions, it must show that the religiousSupreme Court, Tandon v. Newsom, April 9, quoting Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, Dec. 3, 2020)
exercise at issue is more dangerous than those activities even when the same precautions are applied. Otherwise, precautions that suffice for other activities suffice for religious exercise too.
California ended the policy that limited home religious gatherings to three households shortly after the court challenge was filed. But the Supreme Court heard the case anyway to have a decision on record stating, "officials with a track record of 'moving the goalposts' retain authority to reinstate those heightened restrictions at any time".
Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor disagreed with the majority opinion in the Newsom decision.