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Cardinal Bo: 'We need the light of God’s mercy in Myanmar'

Charles Maung Bo pictured during a visit to Rome in 2017. / ACI Stampa

Rome Newsroom, Apr 13, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo has urged Catholics in Burma to share God’s mercy amid the suffering caused by the military coup in their country by visiting the mourning, sharing food with the starving, and praying unceasingly for peace.

“Today, more than ever, our community stands in need of mercy. Millions are starving. Before they could come out of that disaster, the coup came. Most of our people are starving. We need to share our resources. However poor we are, we could share something. That is the sign of Divine Mercy,” Cardinal Bo said in his homily on April 11.

“Hunger is not only the problem our people face: they are afraid, they are traumatized, their spirit is broken by street violence. They need Words. Words of comfort. We need to visit people who have lost their dear ones to the hatred … They all need the soothing words, like Jesus soothed his disciples: ‘Do Not be Afraid; I am with you always,’” he said.

Bo, the archbishop of Yangon and president of the Burmese bishops’ conference, made a pastoral visit on Divine Mercy Sunday to Myitkyina in the northern region of Kachin, which has experienced some of the worst violence as security forces crack down on protesters of the Feb. 1 military coup.

“Myitkyina has been in the news for sad reasons and reasons of faith and sacrifice. Sad reason because of the great tragedy of killing the innocents in the streets, especially in front of the church. The Church was drawn into the struggle of our people, called to accompany our people in their blood and tears,” the cardinal said.

“For many of you, the thirteenth station of the Cross, of Our Mother crying over the dead body of her Son, became real. We live in a country where hundreds of mothers live with inconsolable tears and their hearts wounded, like our Mother Mary, with the sight of their sons and daughters tortured and killed,” he said. “To all those mothers and all of you directly involved, we pray with grace flowing from the heart of Jesus.”

His visit came days after media reports that more than 80 people were killed by heavy artillery fire on protests in the town of Bago on April 9. 

Hundreds of civilians, including 44 children, have been killed in the violence in Burma since February, according to the United Nations. 

The UN World Food Programme has warned that rising food prices pose a significant threat to the poor and vulnerable in the country, including the thousands of people who have been displaced by the violence.

Churches and Buddhist temples in the Kachin region have also been subjected to military raids and searches, according to Agenzia Fides.

“We need the light of God’s mercy in Myanmar,” Cardinal Bo said, urging Catholics to practice works of mercy with good deeds and continued prayers for peace.

“Let us not repay inhumanity with inhumanity. Let us not repay brutality with brutality. Civil war would wound every one and will take decades to heal. Let us not take that path of self-destruction,” he said.

Cardinal Bo pointed in particular to St. Faustina Kowalska’s witness to God’s Divine Mercy. He invited Catholics to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and to recall the good news of the Lord’s resurrection.

“We have seen so many wounds, so much blood, so much atrocity against innocent people: We find it difficult to believe that God is present amid this darkness. Yes. Amid all this darkness, my brothers and sisters, it is important to believe that God will ultimately triumph over evil,” Bo said.

“Jesus is the wounded healer. His wounds wash away our pain today,” he said. “We pray to Jesus: Help us Lord, when our land is wounded and bleeding with hatred, let us become the wounded healer. Let us have the grace and courage to forgive and reconcile our worst enemies and give him the benefit of Love.”

Pope Francis accepts resignation of Crookston’s Bp Hoeppner after Vatican-ordered investigations

Bishop Michael Hoeppner. / CNA file photo.

Vatican City, Apr 13, 2021 / 05:15 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Tuesday accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Minnesota, who was the subject of two Church investigations after he was accused of mishandling cases of priests accused of sexual misconduct.

Hoeppner, 71, was the first U.S. bishop to be investigated under Vos estis lux mundi, Pope Francis’ 2019 norms on investigating bishops accused of mishandling or obstructing allegations of clerical sexual abuse.

Pope Francis appointed Bishop Richard Edmund Pates, bishop emeritus of Des Moines, Iowa, to lead the Crookston diocese as apostolic administrator “sede vacante” until a new bishop is named.

Hoeppner is reported to have pressured an alleged victim to drop his allegation of abuse against a priest, failed to follow mandatory reporting laws, and neglected to follow protocols designed to monitor priests accused of misconduct.

A report on the Vos estis investigation of Hoeppner was sent to Rome in late October 2019, and in February 2020, the Diocese of Crookston announced that the Vatican had ordered an additional investigation into the bishop.

Both investigations were conducted by Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

Hoeppner was not permitted to oversee sexual abuse cases in his diocese during the second investigation.

In depositions released Nov. 5, 2019, as part of a legal settlement, Hoeppner is seen to admit to several of the charges against him. In those depositions, Hoeppner also defended a diocesan decision to allow a priest to remain in ministry, without notifying parents or parishioners, after the priest admitted that while he was teenager he had sexually abused a younger child.

The announcement in early 2020 about a second investigation into Hoeppner followed several months in which local Catholics called for Hoeppner’s resignation, and accused him of mistreating a popular priest removed from ministry under vague terms.

Priests in the diocese told CNA at the time that they expected Hoeppner to be removed from office, and that given the bishop’s record, the credibility of the Vos estis procedures could be called into question if he is eventually permitted to remain in office.

Vos estis lux mundi allows the Vatican “to provide for a supplementary investigation” after initial steps are taken, if Vatican officials deem it necessary.

There are currently several Vos estis investigations going on in dioceses in the U.S.

In 2021, announcements were made about new Vos estis investigations into Bishop John Brungardt of Dodge City and former Albany bishop Howard Hubbard.

Priest who served at Franciscan University of Steubenville indicted on rape allegations

The Portiuncula Chapel on the campus of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. / Robert Pernett via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Tacna, Peru, Apr 12, 2021 / 19:08 pm (CNA).

A Franciscan priest who once worked in campus ministry at Franciscan University of Steubenville has been indicted in Ohio for the alleged rape of a female patient who was mentally or physically impaired.

 

On April 7, Father David Morrier, T.O.R., was indicted in Ohio by the Jefferson County Grand Jury on two charges of sexual battery and a single charge of rape. He was removed from active ministry in 2015 on unspecified sexual misconduct charges, his Franciscan province has said.

 

The 59-year-old priest is a mental health professional. He allegedly maintained a three-year sexual relationship with a patient the indictment described as “substantially impaired because of a mental or physical condition,” the Steubenville newspaper The Herald Star reports. He allegedly falsely represented to her that sexual conduct was “necessary for mental health treatment purposes.”

 

An April 9 statement from the Office of the Minister Provincial of the Third Order Regular Franciscans’ Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus said that the alleged charges took place between November 2010 and spring 2013.

 

“Fr. Morrier was removed from public ministry in 2015 due to allegations of sexual misconduct,” the provincial’s office said. “He has not exercised public ministry since that time. Being removed from public ministry means that he has not publicly celebrated Mass or any sacraments. The province has cooperated fully with the investigation into this matter.”

 

“The province takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and urges anyone who has been a victim of sexual misconduct to call law enforcement officials immediately,” the statement continued.

 

In an April 8 statement the Diocese of Steubenville said it first became aware of the case “when the alleged victim presented the allegations to the diocese in November 2018.”

 

“Although Father Morrier is not a priest of the Steubenville Diocese, the diocese began an immediate preliminary investigation with the alleged victim and officers with the Steubenville police department,” the statement said.

 

“The Diocese of Steubenville submitted a report to the Minister General of the T.O.R.’s in Rome as well as to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Holy See on December 11, 2018. Since that time, the diocese has continued to work with the Steubenville police department and has provided updates on the investigation to the Holy See,” the statement added. The Steubenville diocese said it takes abuse allegations “most seriously” and “encourages victims of abuse to contact the local police department in whose jurisdiction the abuse occurred.”

 

Morrier was ordained a priest for the Franciscan province in 1997. The charges against him overlap his time as a campus minister at Franciscan University of Steubenville, a position he held through 2014.

 

An April 8 statement from the Franciscan University of Steubenville said “the university has cooperated and will continue to cooperate fully with authorities concerning the conduct of Father David Morrier, T.O.R., prior to 2014.”

 

“Franciscan University removed him permanently from campus ministry, and he was also prohibited from returning to campus,” said the university. It did not clarify the timing of the removal.

 

“Sexual assault is not only a crime but a serious sin,” it added, saying all sexual misconduct complaints face action under the university’s Policy on Discrimination, Harassment and Sexual Misconduct.

 

“Anyone who may have been harmed while at Franciscan University is offered counseling and other appropriate services,” said the university. “Anyone who experienced or is aware of sexual misconduct at Franciscan University is encouraged to make a report to the University and/or the Steubenville Police Department.”

 

After Morrier’s time at Steubenville, he appears to have served at a Franciscan church in Arlington, Texas in the Diocese of Fort Worth. According to a cached version of the St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church and School website, Morrier was announced as the new parochial vicar of the parish on May 1, 2014, with his duties beginning June 3 of that year. The parish is run by the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regular.

Archbishop Cordileone calls for ‘inoculation against racism’

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone speaks at the San Francisco for Unity prayer service against racism. / Dennis Callahan/Archdiocese of San Francisco.

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2021 / 17:51 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco last week condemned violence against Asian people in the United States, drawing comparisons between the COVID-19 vaccine and standing against racism.

 

“Inoculation against racism can be summed up in one word: virtue,” Cordileone said April 10 at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption.

 

The archbishop’s remarks were made at a prayer service “for an end to violence and racism particularly against Asians, for healing for our nation, and for the flourishing of peace and justice in our land.”

 

The event was held amid recent reports of rising violence against the Asian community in the United States.

 

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 36% of people in San Francisco County are of Asian descent. Cordileone noted that immigration from China has been a constant in the city from its beginning, and immigration from other Asian countries is also common in the area. He called it “very disturbing” that “racial violence would rear its ugly head here.”

 

The archbishop cited Pope Francis, who described racism as “a virus that quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting.”

 

Cordileone said “the virus of racism” is a lot like COVID-19. “It never goes away, but there are ways to inoculate oneself against it, even if one has to be always vigilant to protect oneself from being infected.”

 

He noted that a vaccine will not kill the virus, but instead prevents a person from being harmed if exposed to it.

 

“But what is our inoculation against racism?” the archbishop questioned. He highlighted the early Christian communities depicted in the Acts of the Apostles as a “good start in answering that question.”

 

“We see here,” said the bishop, “the qualities that make such a peaceful and harmonious common life possible: each one looked out first and foremost for the good of the other, not what they were going to get out of it.”

 

Cordileone challenged the congregation to live out the Christian “mission of mercy.” He concluded by listing virtues he thought best acted as the “inoculation against racism” – specifically, “generosity, selflessness, trust and trustworthiness, humility, courage, conviction, forgiveness, and, of course, mercy itself.”

 

The archbishop encouraged San Franciscans to lead by example and “make our Golden Gate an authentic symbol of a city that will let no stranger wait outside its door.”

BREAKING: After school shooting, Knoxville bishop asks for 'positive solutions' to gun violence

Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville / Catholic News Agency

Washington D.C., Apr 12, 2021 / 17:22 pm (CNA).

Bishop Richard Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville demanded “positive solutions” to gun violence after a fatal shooting at an area high school on Monday. 

“Once again and regrettably, I am asking for prayers for the victims of another terrible shooting in Knoxville,” Bishop Stika wrote in a statement on Monday. “I have been monitoring today’s unfortunate and violent incident and offer my personal prayers for all of the victims, including a law-enforcement officer.”

According to local authorities, one person was killed and a police officer was injured Monday during a shooting at Knoxville’s Austin-East High School. Knoxville police said that officers had responded to reports of an armed male at the school, who was subsequently killed in a shooting when confronted by police, according to ABC 8 News.

One police officer was injured and is recovering at a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries. 

Bishop Stika on Monday decried ongoing acts of violence and called for prayers and “positive solutions.”

“The series of tragic events that has taken place in recent weeks in Knoxville, especially involving the Austin-East community, and those that have taken place throughout the United States, demonstrate that violence in our society remains a serious, almost daily occurrence and that it claims victims in many different ways,” the bishop wrote.

“As a nation, we must commit ourselves to work to turn away from violence and find real solutions that lead us to love, compassion, and decency,” he stated. 

“As Bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville, I pledge to do what I can to help. Prayers are important, but communities must come together to find positive solutions to this ongoing problem in our country.”

This story is developing.

St Paul-Minneapolis archbishop prays for peace, caution after Daunte Wright shooting

A protester argues with a Minnesota State Patrol outside the Brooklyn Center Police Station after a police officer shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minn., April 12, 2021. Credit: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images.

St. Paul, Minn., Apr 12, 2021 / 17:09 pm (CNA).

On Monday, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis prayed for all parties involved in the police shooting of Daunte Wright. 

“I have been praying for [Wright’s] eternal repose, for his family and for all those who loved him,” Archbishop Hebda said April 12. He added he was “also praying for the Brooklyn Center Police officer involved in the shooting, and for her family and friends. I suspect that they are grieving in a different way.”

At a traffic stop April 11 in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, police officers attempted to arrest Wright, a black man, for what they said was an outstanding arrest warrant. After Wright resisted arrest to escape in his car, one of the officers shot him. Wright drove several blocks before crashing. He died on the scene of the crash. 

Referencing body camera video footage, the chief of police said he believed the shooting was an accident, as the officer intended to tase Wright. The officer was placed on administrative leave. 

The shooting of Wright occurred during the nationally heated trial of Derek Chauvin, a Minnesota police officer who is accused of killing George Floyd. The coupling of events has sparked protests, rioting, and looting across Minneapolis. The National Guard was deployed and a curfew was imposed.

“While early indications point towards the shooting being accidental” the archbishop said, “I encourage allowing investigators from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to complete a thorough investigation before coming to any personal judgments as to what occurred.”

Hebda called on the community to “pause and pray, particularly during this time of already heightened tension due to the Chauvin trial.” The archbishop also mentioned that he was “encouraged and inspired by the pleas for peace that have continued to come from the family of George Floyd.”

He concluded by asking that “all of us take time daily to pray for justice, but also for peace in our families and in our communities.”

Catholic aid group praises Biden’s proposed boost to foreign assistance

People wait outside a distribution point to receive aid rations in Oromia Region, Ethiopia, in February 2018 / Will Baxter/Catholic Relief Services

Washington D.C., Apr 12, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

A Catholic aid agency is praising President Biden’s 2022 fiscal year budget request for its focus on fighting poverty.

“The administration’s proposal to increase poverty-focused international assistance in its FY22 budget request demonstrates a steadfast commitment to American leadership abroad,” stated Bill O’Keefe, executive vice president for mission, mobilization and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), on Friday.

The White House released its discretionary funding request for fiscal year 2022 on Friday. The request is a summary of the administration’s full budget, which will be released later.

Included in the request is $1 billion in U.S. foreign assistance for fighting infectious diseases around the globe, as well as $2.5 billion for international climate programs.

O’Keefe said that the proposed funding “will be vital” to fighting global poverty, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 has plunged tens of millions of families further into poverty, threatening their ability to put food on the table,” O’Keefe stated. “The U.S. is a blessed nation. It’s our moral responsibility as Americans to protect the life and dignity of those most in need.”

Increased foreign assistance will help the United States counter the threats of climate change and future pandemics, O'Keefe said, adding that it will also boost the U.S. response to "the complex challenges plaguing Central America.”

In 2019, CRS criticized President Trump’s proposal to cut foreign aid by nearly 25%.

The 2022 federal budget process is also expected to feature a debate over taxpayer funding of abortions.

Biden’s budget request did not specifically mention abortion funding, but pro-life groups are warning that a proposed $340 million increase for the Title X family planning program would fund pro-abortion groups.

While the Trump administration set up safeguards against Title X funding of abortion clinics – forbidding grantees from referring for abortions or being co-located with abortion clinics – the Biden administration is currently in the process of rolling back those requirements.

In addition, Biden’s budget request includes funding of the UN’s population fund (UNFPA). The Trump administration stopped funding the UNFPA in 2017 over its partnership with the Chinese government, claiming that the organization was complicit in China’s practice of forced abortions.

“Biden’s funding proposal further raises the stakes for inclusion of the Hyde family of longstanding pro-life policies,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, on Friday. 

The Hyde Amendment – federal policy that bars funding of elective abortions in appropriations – has been enacted in law since 1976 as a rider to budget bills. However, Biden in 2019 reversed his long-standing support for the policy, and has opposed it as president. Democratic leadership in Congress have also called for the repeal of the policy.

“Under his radical Cabinet appointees, funding increases will translate to a payday for abortion giants like Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International, and greater complicity in human rights abuses around the world,” Dannenfelser stated. “We strongly urge our congressional allies to reject any budget that omits these vital protections.”

Democratic leaders have also called for the repeal of other pro-life funding policies such as the Helms Amendment, which forbids federal funding of international abortions. President Biden has already allowed for federal funding of pro-abortion foreign NGOs by repealing the Mexico City Policy.

 

 

 

Haitian bishops condemn kidnappings of Catholic priests, nuns

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption - Cap-Haitien, Haiti / Rotorhead 30A Productions/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 12, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Seven Catholic priests and nuns were kidnapped in Haiti on Sunday, and are being held for ransom.

The five priests and two nuns were abducted at Croix-des-Bouquets, a suburb of Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince. According to local news, they were taken while on the way to attend the installation of a parish priest. 

According to Haitian media, the “400 Mawozo” gang admitted culpability for the kidnapping, and is demanding $1 million in ransom. 

Two of the kidnapped, one priest and one nun, are citizens of France.

Church leaders in Haiti have condemned the kidnappings, and called for action to be taken against the perpetrators.

Fr. Gilbert Peltrop, the secretary general of the Haitian Conference of the Religious, told Reuters that “the nation must stand up to fight these thugs.” 

Bishop Pierre-André Dumas, vice president of the Episcopal Conference of Haiti and the bishop of Anse-à-Veau et Miragoâne, told AFP that “the Church prays and stands in solidarity with all the victims of this heinous act.” 

“This is too much,” he said. “The time has come for these inhuman acts to stop.” 

The Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince warned in a statement that gang violence has reached “unprecedented” levels in the country.

“For some time now, we have been witnessing the descent into hell of Haitian society,” the archdiocese stated, as reported by AFP. “The public authorities who are doing nothing to resolve this crisis are not immune from suspicion,” the statement continued, condemning “complacency and complicity.”

The number of kidnappings for ransom has recently increased in Haiti, and protests have denounced the surge of violence plaguing the country. 

Over the Easter Triduum, four members of a church were kidnapped during a ceremony that was being broadcast live on Facebook.

On April 1, four members of the Seventh-day Adventist Gospel Kreyòl Ministry Church in Diquini, Haiti were abducted while performing at the ceremony. Many who were watching the service reportedly thought the kidnapping was an April Fool’s Day prank, before realizing they had witnessed a crime. 

The foursome, including the church’s pastor, pianist, and two technicians, were held as hostages until Easter Sunday, and were released after a ransom was paid.

Dr. Gregory M. Figaro, whose father founded the church in Diquini, was present at the kidnapping and said a man with a gun gained entry to the church after knocking on the door. 

“If this can happen, then anything is possible in the country because there is no respect for any institution, whether it’s a church or school,” Figaro told the Miami Herald after the kidnapping. “They are even grabbing people from inside their home.”

Haiti has also been affected by other crises, including natural disasters and a lack of health care infrastructure to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A 2010 earthquake killed 200,000 people and left one million people homeless; one decade later, tens of thousands were still living in tent camps.

In October 2016, more than 1.4 million people were in need of emergency aid after Hurricane Matthew made landfall.

Violent protests have also occurred in Haiti since July 2018, with protesters calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse.

Indiana bill would make religious services 'essential' during declared emergencies

The Indiana capitol. / Aeypix/Shutterstock

Indianapolis, Ind., Apr 12, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

The Indiana legislature on Thursday sent a bill to the governor which would classify religious services as essential during declared disaster emergencies, and would prevent the government imposing any restrictions on religious services that are more restrictive than those imposed on other essential organizations.

“Religious organizations provide essential services that are necessary for the health and welfare of the public during a disaster emergency,” the bill reads.

The bill does not exclude the government from imposing health, safety, or occupancy requirements on religious services, provided that they are equally applied to other operations deemed essential.

In addition, these restrictions may not, the bill says, impose a “substantial burden” on a religious service without a compelling governmental interest, and the restrictions must be the “least restrictive means” of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

Churches throughout the U.S. filed several lawsuits in the past year against local authorities, complaining of unequal coronavirus restrictions on religious services in comparison to comparable secular activities.

New York state in October had limited indoor religious gatherings in certain areas to only 10 people, with other areas limited to 25 people, due to the spread of the virus in those areas, while allowing other venues to open and operate under far fewer restrictions.

The Supreme Court in November issued a ruling enjoining Governor Andrew Cuomo from enforcing those limits following an appeal from the Diocese of Brooklyn.

In California, Harvest Rock Church filed a lawsuit against the state over its restrictions on worship, which effectively prohibited all indoor services, while allowing stores and restaurants to open with capacity limits.

A district court would not grant its request to halt the restrictions. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled against the church in October, refusing to overrule the district court’s decision and saying that while the state provided expert testimony to support its public health restrictions, the church had not provided its own health expert to make its case.

In a November 2020 appeal to the Supreme Court, Harvest Rock alleged that Governor Gavin Newsom had applied a double-standard during the nine months of the pandemic, curbing religious services while allowing comparable non-religious gatherings and mass protests to continue “without numerical restriction.”

The Supreme Court accepted the church’s appeal, vacated the Ninth Circuit decision, and sent the case back to the circuit court for consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Brooklyn diocese case.

However, the appeals court ruled in January 2021 for a second time against Harvest Rock, deciding that a total ban on indoor worship services in most areas of the state is justified to block the spread of coronavirus, but also that the state could not enforce numerical restrictions on worshippers in certain areas.

A February unsigned order from the Supreme Court said that the total ban on indoor worship is unconstitutional. At most, the state may limit indoor capacity to 25% of normal.

High Plains Harvest Church in Eaton, Colorado, appealed to the Supreme Court in December against the state’s COVID restrictions, charging that the state’s restrictions were “transparently selective and discriminatory” in subjecting churches to limits that some retail stores were exempted from.

In response, the state reclassified houses of worship as “critical businesses,” exempting them from capacity limits to which other non-essential businesses were subject.

California’s limit on home religious gatherings too strict, US Supreme Court says

U.S. Supreme Court building / Steven Frame/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 12, 2021 / 13:49 pm (CNA).

California’s coronavirus restrictions on home-based religious gatherings like Bible studies, worship and prayer meetings were more strict than the constitution allows, the U.S. Supreme Court said in a 5-4 court order late Friday.

Citing an appeals court decision in a different case, the unsigned majority’s court order said the state cannot “assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work.”

California had said its restrictions on social gatherings was “entirely neutral.” Its current coronavirus mitigation rules have limited indoor social gatherings to no more than three households, and attendees must wear masks and keep physical distance from each other.

These rules were challenged by Rev. Jeremy Wong and Karen Busch,  two residents of Santa Clara County, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They wanted to host small, in-person Bible studies in their homes, the Associated Press said. In the case known as Tandon v. Newsom, they objected that the limits interfered with their free exercise of religion.

“There is zero evidence that an indoor Bible study is riskier than a trip to the movies, dinner in a restaurant, a workout in a gym or a gathering with dozens of friends at a winery, brewery, distillery or bowling alley,” the plaintiffs said in their appeal to the Supreme Court, the New York Times reports.

The Supreme Court’s order critiqued the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, saying “instead of requiring the State to explain why it could not safely permit at-home worshipers to gather in larger numbers while using precautions used in secular activities, the Ninth Circuit erroneously declared that such measures might not ‘translate readily’ to the home.”

The order faulted the appellate court’s series of decisions on California rules.

“This is the fifth time the Court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise,” said the order. “It is unsurprising that such litigants are entitled to relief.”

“California’s Blueprint System contains myriad exceptions and accommodations for comparable activities, thus requiring the application of strict scrutiny,” the Supreme Court said. Under this standard, the state must pursue its interest through laws that are “narrowly tailored.”

David Cortman, senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation with the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group, welcomed the decision.

“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,” Cortman said April 10.

“As the court explained, the government can’t single out religious activities for harsher treatment than non-religious ones,” he added. “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.”

The court order did draw disagreement from Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and a written dissent from Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

“California limits religious gatherings in homes to three households. If the State also limits all secular gatherings in homes to three households, it has complied with the First Amendment,” Kagan said. “And the State does exactly that: It has adopted a blanket restriction on at-home gatherings of all kinds, religious and secular alike.”

Kagan objected to claims that in-home religious gatherings should be treated “the same as hardware stores and hair salons.” She said “the law does not require that the State equally treat apples and watermelons.”

The court majority however, said comparable secular activities treated “more favorably than at-home religious exercise” under California rules included private suites at sporting events and concerts as well as indoor restaurant dining, where more than three households were allowed to gather.

“Where the government permits other activities to proceed with precautions, it must show that the religious exercise at issue is more dangerous than those activities even when the same precautions are applied,” the Supreme Court said.

Public health officials have said anti-coronavirus health precautions for gatherings include limited attendance capacity, physical distance between households, the use of face coverings or masks, and good hand hygiene. Good ventilation for indoor gatherings has also been stressed.