Thursday, April 01, 2021

9th Circuit Upholds California Limits On In-Home Bible Study Groups

In Tandon v. Newsom, (9th Cir., March 30, 2021), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, refused to issue an emergency injunction pending appeal to prevent enforcement of California's COVID-19 limitations against appellants' in-home Bible study and communal worship sessions. The majority said in part:

[T]he district court concluded that the State reasonably distinguishes in-home private gatherings from the commercial activity Appellants assert is comparable. For example, the district court found that the State reasonably concluded that when people gather in social settings, their interactions are likely to be longer than they would be in a commercial setting; that participants in a social gathering are more likely to be involved in prolonged conversations; that private houses are typically smaller and less ventilated than commercial establishments; and that social distancing and mask-wearing are less likely in private settings and enforcement is more difficult.... Appellants do not dispute any of these findings. Therefore, we conclude that Appellants have not established that strict scrutiny applies to the gatherings restrictions.

Judge Bumatay dissented, saying in part:

Even if studying scripture at home risks some level of transmission of COVID-19, the exemptions for barbershops, tattoo and nail parlors, and other personal care businesses reveal that less-restrictive alternatives are available to California to mitigate that concern. If the State is truly concerned about the “proximity, length, and interaction” of private gatherings, as it claims, it could regulate those aspects of religious gatherings in a narrowly tailored way. But the one thing California cannot do is privilege tattoo parlors over Bible studies when loosening household limitations.