Jeremy Wong has never been all that interested in politics. The young associate pastor at Orchard Community Church always tried to keep his focus on the congregation -- until COVID struck. Then, to his frustration, things changed. Suddenly, it was impossible to minister the way he and so many other pastors had under California's suffocating lockdown rules. By October, after months of trying to lead Bible studies and prayer meetings over Zoom, Jeremy had had enough. He decided to join a lawsuit to fight the state's over-the-top limits on in-home religious gatherings. Finally, late Friday night, something happened that he "never in [his] wildest thoughts" expected: they won.
"I didn't have super high expectations," the 40-year-old told the Mercury News. But the feeling of relief is unmistakable. By a 5-4 vote just before midnight, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the group of challengers "are irreparably harmed by the loss of free exercise rights for even minimal periods of time." California officials, in their opinion, haven't been able to prove that "public health would be imperiled" with less oppressive policies. Once again, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett argued, the state is showing preference to secular businesses. And that's a violation of the First Amendment "whenever they treat any comparable secular activity more favorably than religious exercise."
Christians should have the same freedom to gather as people at "hair salons, retail stores, personal care services, movie theaters, private suites at sporting events and concerts and indoor restaurants," the majority insisted. For pastors like Jeremy, "the differing rules felt both arbitrary and personal." Before COVID, he and his family would have 10-12 members of the church over for dinner and a Bible study. As the pandemic dragged on, "trying to comfort churchgoers who had lost family members or jobs via Zoom -- while liquor stories... and hair salons stayed open" diminished just how important the role of ministry can be in a crisis. The church, he argued, is just as essential -- if not more so -- than all of these other services. "...[A]t least from a pastor's perspective, [prayer groups and Bible studies] are important because they address needs of people in the congregation that things like medicine can't."
The Supreme Court has said as much during COVID -- five times in California alone. "The Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that states cannot treat religion differently from secular interests in the name of the pandemic," FRC's Katherine Beck Johnson insisted. "It's time states start listening to SCOTUS and stop forcing religious adherents to go to court to have their rights upheld."
Still, radical leaders seem intent on pushing the issue, probably hoping the court (which is more closely divided than it should be on such an obvious constitutional question) will crack. As it is, the court's slim majority is already under attack by the Biden administration. Desperate to break the originalists' grip on SCOTUS, the president signed an executive order to create a commission to "study" the impact of the Left's radical ideas like court-packing or limiting lifetime appointments.
"Remember," Carrie Severino said, "[Biden] refused to tell Americans what he would do in terms of court-packing" before the election. "This is him kind of trying to kick the can down the road and provide cover," she explained on "Washington Watch." "But what we're really seeing here, if you look at the trajectory... is he's trying to find a way to tact to the Left here and cover his tracks." Look, she argued, everyone from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to Justice Stephen Breyer believes this is a horrible idea. And yet, this commission, Carrie insists, would give the president a "fig leaf to go from the moderate stance he tried to project during the election to the extreme, radical, full-throated 'Let's just scrap the whole [judiciary] and start over."
Carrie, who heads up the Judicial Crisis Network, says people shouldn't buy the line that this is a bipartisan commission either. She's studied the three dozen "experts" who've been selected and points out that only a handful are even Republicans -- and very moderate Republicans at that. They're just there for "window dressing," she told listeners. The rest are far-Left radicals from the ACLU to NARAL, "liberal activist fundamentalists" who give the president an excuse to say that wonderful scholars want to pack the court, when instead, "it's the dark money groups on the Left who funded [his] campaign." They're the ones who will "settle for nothing less than the most extreme judges possible." And they won't settle for nine of them. They want 15, or as many on the court as they can get.
According to the White House, the commission has 180 days to report back on their findings. In the meantime, Carrie says, "I think they're hoping we all forget what's going on... But believe me, they know that before they potentially lose control of the Senate, there's going to be a huge push." And one of the big ticket items on that agenda is ending the filibuster so that they can push these sweeping court changes through with 51 votes instead of 60. If that happens, she warns, Americans would be looking at a radicalized court beyond anything anyone can imagine. "That would be a real problem in a country where you want the court to be a check on... making sure the Constitution is followed."