The United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the Center for American Liberty in the case Ritesh Tandon, Et Al v. Governor Gavin Newsom late Friday, lifting restrictions on in-home religious gatherings and marking the third Supreme Court victory for the Center for American Liberty against Gov. Newsom’s unconstitutional COVID-19 pandemic shelter in place orders.
On Oct. 13, 2020, the Center for American Liberty, on behalf of plaintiffs Ritesh Tandon, Pastor Jeremy Wong, Karen Busch, Terry and Carolyn Gannon, Connie Richards, Julie Evarkiou, Dhruv Khanna, Frances Beaudet and Maya Mansour, in coordination with Eimer Stahl, LLP, sued Gov. Newsom and Santa Clara County Executive Jeffrey Smith, challenging unconstitutional restrictions on religious and political gatherings.
“Friday’s Supreme Court ruling in Tandon stands on the shoulders of several other religious liberties cases we and others brought in the past year, in which the court has struck down California’s discriminatory COVID regulations burdening people of faith and houses of worship with harsher restrictions that those applicable to commercial and other activities,” Harmeet K. Dhillon, CEO and founder of the Center for American Liberty, said in a statement. “Here, in the case of a rule banning different families from gathering in a private home to pray together, the Court recognized that any time the government burdens religious activity with special rules, it must bear the burden of strict scrutiny, and in this case it could not meet that test. We are grateful that the First Amendment rights of our clients were recognized by the court in overturning the 9th Circuit.”
The state said it was in the process of modifying its rules as part of its ongoing process of easing restrictions by April 15, according to national media reports.
“It has been a long slog, but we are thrilled beyond words for our clients, who can now boast of securing the rarest of feats: obtaining an injunction from the U.S. Supreme Court in an extraordinary Friday-night order. This decision will make the casebooks,” said Eimer Stahl, LLP attorney, Robert Dunn.
Until early 2021, after the arrival of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the court generally deferred the judgments to health officials when it came to COVID-19 restrictions.
Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman issued the following statement on the ruling: “With this fifth rejection of California’s COVID-19 restrictions on religious exercise, the Supreme Court has made abundantly clear that the government has a duty to respect the First Amendment in this context and many others. As the court explained, the government can’t single out religious activities for harsher treatment than non-religious ones. The court also rejected the idea that such unfair treatment is okay, in this instance, because people gathering for religious purposes in homes somehow can’t be trusted to take the same precautions as people do in other places. Instead, the decision reaffirms that the government can’t ‘assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work.’ The Supreme Court came to the right and logical conclusion in condemning state restrictions that demonstrate this kind of unconstitutional hostility to religion.”