“It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it.”
James Madison – Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments.
Following Friday’s Supreme Court ruling in Tandon v Newsom, the state of California has lifted restrictions on the number of attendees and location of religious services.
The state had previously placed percentage limitations on congregations and had attempted to ban in-home religious gatherings. The Supreme Court had issued several rulings throughout the pandemic that applied “strict scrutiny” analysis to limits on churches. In other words, the state needed to demonstrate that the state narrowly tailored the limitations to achieve a particular goal. In the cases, the Supreme Court routinely found that houses of worship had been placed under more restrictions than comparable secular businesses.
“The virus is real, and it is the job of churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship to take steps to keep congregants safe. It is good to see that the state of California finally recognizes what the Supreme Court has told them five times – that the free exercise of religion is a constitutional right that the state cannot easily take away,” said Michael Peabody, President of Founders’ First Freedom.
Peabody continued, “This is the lesson of the Pandemic – it shows how easy it is for states to attempt to take away constitutional rights. If the Supreme Court ruled differently, it would have created a precedent that the state could significantly limit a key component of the Bill of Rights for any reason that could be remotely categorized as promoting ‘health and safety.'”
Limits will remain in place on singing in some areas of the state since the Supreme Court ruling had focused on attendance limits and locations.
In its defense in Tandon v Newsom, California had noted that it would be lifting restrictions on churches effective April 15 but wanted the ability to reinstate restrictions as necessary.
Founders’ First Freedom is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for the First Amendment principles of the free exercise of religion and separation of church and state.