Tampa Bay Times



In a late-night ruling, the Supreme Court on Friday blocked a California coronaviru­s restrictio­n on religious gatherings, saying the state’s limits on home-based Bible study and prayer sessions violated constituti­onal rights.

The 5-4 order on an emergency petition illustrate­s how a new majority on the court — with Justice Amy Coney Barrett playing a decisive role — is now in control when the court considers if pandemic-related restrictio­ns cross the line to endanger religious rights.

Constituti­onal protection­s are implicated any time a state treats “any comparable secular activity more favorably than religious exercise,” the majority wrote.

In this case, the majority said, gatherings of more than three households were banned at prayer meetings in homes even though California permits “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 opinion was unsigned, but the majority was composed of Barrett and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

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