There have been very few silver linings to the COVID-19 pandemic, unless you consider the rash of religious freedom lawsuits and court decisions protecting religious activity from government discrimination a net benefit to our country’s overall constitutional health.
But this benefit, if it is truly a lasting outgrowth of the pandemic, continues to suffer the growing pains associated with inconsistent court decisions and the varying philosophies of different state legislatures. For example, in California, which has seen multiple federal lawsuits – and some victories – regarding houses of worship, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently – and disappointingly – upheld the state’s restrictions on in-home gatherings, including Bible studies and communal worship activities involving more than three households.
In the California case, several individuals argued that state and county restrictions treated religion differently than analogous secular businesses conducted in small spaces, such as hair salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors. In a 2-1 decision, the 9th Circuit rejected their arguments, essentially ruling that those businesses were not analogous, and only other in-home activities could be considered similar types of activities for the sake of comparison. And since all in-home activities were treated the same under the law, the majority opinion reasoned, the law was “neutral and generally applicable” and did not target religion for unequal treatment. From The Daily Citizen.