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Supreme Court halts California from imposing limits for at-home woriship

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Supreme Court halts California from imposing limits for at-home woriship

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is telling California that it can’t enforce coronavirus-related restrictions that have limited home-based religious worship including Bible studies and prayer meetings.

The order from the court late Friday is the latest in a recent string of cases in which the high court has barred officials from enforcing some coronavirus-related restrictions applying to religious gatherings.

Five conservative justices agreed that California restrictions that apply to in-home religious gatherings should be lifted for now, while the court’s three liberals and Chief Justice John Roberts would not have done so.

California has already, however, announced significant changes loosening restrictions on gatherings that go into effect April 15. The changes come after infection rates have gone down in the state.

The case before the justices involved California rules that in most of the state limit indoor social gatherings to no more than three households. Attendees are required to wear masks and physically distance from one another. Different restrictions apply to places including schools, grocery stores and churches.

“California treats some comparable secular activities more favorably than at-home religious exercise,” allowing hair salons, retail stores, and movie theaters, among other places, “to bring together more than three households at a time,” the unsigned order from the court said. A lower court “did not conclude that those activities pose a lesser risk of transmission than applicants’ proposed religious exercise at home,” it said. 

The court acknowledged that California’s policy on gatherings will change next week but said the restrictions remain in place until then and that “officials with a track record of ‘moving the goalposts’ retain authority to reinstate those heightened restrictions at any time.”

Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissent for herself and her liberal colleagues, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, that the court’s majority was hurting state officials’ ability to address a public health emergency.

“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. And the State does exactly that: It has adopted a blanket restriction on at-home gatherings of all kinds, religious and secular alike. California need not … treat at-home religious gatherings the same as hardware stores and hair salons,” she wrote. She added that “the law does not require that the State equally treat apples and watermelons.”

The case before the justices involved two residents of Santa Clara County in the San Francisco Bay Area, who want to host small, in-person Bible study sessions in their homes. California had defended its policy of restricting social gatherings as “entirely neutral.”

The court has dealt with a string of cases in which religious groups have challenged coronavirus restrictions impacting worship services. While early in the pandemic the court sided with state officials over the objection of religious groups, that changed following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last September and her replacement by conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

In November, the high court barred New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by the virus. And in February, the high court told California that it can’t bar indoor church services because of the coronavirus pandemic, though it let stand for now a ban on singing and chanting indoors.

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Court upholds life sentence for man convicted of marijuana possession

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Court upholds life sentence for man convicted of marijuana possession

A Mississippi man will continue to serve a life sentence for a pot bust after a court upheld the lengthy term.

Allen Russell’s life sentence was upheld by a state appeals court Tuesday due to his “habitual offender” status from past run-ins with the law.

State law allows for a life sentence without parole if a person has spent a year in prison on two separate felonies, one of which must be a violent offense, according to the Associated Press/Report for America.

Police confiscated five bags from Russell when he was arrested in 2017, and confirmed that two of the bags contained 1.5 ounces of marijuana.

Under state law, possession of between 1.05 and 8.8 ounces of marijuana carries a sentence of up to three years, a $3,000 fine, or both, the AP said

Russell did more than eight years in prison on two home burglary charges and spent another two years in the clink after a conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm, according to the Mississippi Court of Appeals ruling.

Several judges on the court dissented with the majority opinion.

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Woman hoarding gas flees police, catches on fire after crash

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Woman hoarding gas flees police, catches on fire after crash

A woman who was hoarding gasoline tried to flee police in a stolen car and crashed into a fiery wreck in South Carolina.

A Pickens County Sheriff’s deputy tried to pull over a 2007 Pontiac G6 Thursday evening after he ran the plates and found it was stolen, officials said.

The driver, Jessica Dale Patterson, 28, tried to outrun the pursuing deputy, but lost control of the car and flipped it over on the side of the road, according to a press release.

“The vehicle immediately caught fire, and multiple explosions were heard inside the vehicle,” officials wrote.

Patterson emerged from the car on fire herself, and the deputy pushed her to the ground to extinguish the flames.

The suspect told authorities she was “hoarding” several containers of fuel in the trunk, which were responsible for the fire.

There was no immediate word on the Patterson’s condition or charges against her.

The incident comes two days after the White House pleaded with Americans not to hoard gas amid the ransomware attack against the Colonial Pipeline.

The Southeast was hit hardest by the fuel shortage. By Thursday morning, fuel was once again flowing to the region.

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Shooting in Rhode Island leaves as many as 9 injured

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Shooting in Rhode Island leaves as many as 9 injured

A shooting in Rhode Island left as many as nine young men injured on Wednesday night.

The wild gun battle took place between groups with an “ongoing feud” in Providence, police said in a press conference.

Gunmen opened fire as they pulled up to a rival’s house in the city’s Washington Park section around 6:45 p.m., according to police.

Some of their targets returned fire, and when the smoke cleared, the Carolina Avenue lawn was littered with dozens of shell casings.

“We find as many as nine, eight or nine victims. We believe it’s going to be nine victims,” Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. said.

All but one of the injured men drove themselves to the hospital. Three people are believed to be in critical condition, the chief said.

The targeted attack marks the largest shooting in the city’s history, according to Clements. Four or five guns were allegedly involved.

“We don’t shy away from the fact that we have a gun issue in this city,” Clements said.

“It’s unfortunate that young men in this community have no regard for life at times. They fire the guns willingly at each other, and this is the case here.”

Detectives are familiar with the suspects and victims in the incident, and were interviewing them at the hospital in the wake of the shooting as officials work to piece together the scene and make arrests, police said.

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