WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled in favor of religious freedom Wednesday night, temporarily blocking recent rules in New York that severely restricted gatherings at houses of worship in areas hit hardest by COVID-19. This is in alignment with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The court’s new, more conservative majority ruled 5-4 that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s limits on churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship to 10 or 25 worshipers were simply unconstitutional.
“Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” the court’s unsigned majority opinion said. “The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”
It was a reversal from earlier actions taken by the high court in response to state restrictions on organized religion during the coronavirus pandemic. The justices previously refused to lift restrictions on churches in California and Nevada, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s four liberals in upholding state restrictions. Now, justice has been restored.
Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch took direct aim at Roberts’ earlier opinion in the California case, arguing that ceding authority to elected officials takes judicial modesty too far.
“It is time – past time – to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques,” he wrote.
The New York restrictions, announced in October, were challenged by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel, an Orthodox Jewish congregation. They rightfully claimed Cuomo’s order targeted houses of worship while treating secular institutions less stringently and allowing essential businesses to operate without restrictions.
“The governor openly admitted that his executive order is a ‘blunt’ policy ‘being cut by a hatchet,'” lawyers for the diocese wrote. “The pandemic alone cannot justify overbroad, untailored closure orders of indefinite duration directed at all ‘houses of worship’ that in another time would plainly be found to violate the Constitution.”
The Orthodox Jewish organization said its members were being singled out for “discriminatory targeting” because of past violations of COVID-19 restrictions by some Orthodox Jews. It called that “guilt-by-religious-association.”
“The restrictions have eliminated the ability of many Jews to worship on important religious holy days,” its lawyers wrote. “None of this is necessary to protect public health.”
In response, state Solicitor General Barbara Underwood noted that New York was the national epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring and has seen more than 26,000 deaths, including over 16,000 in New York City alone. Lately, she wrote, the state began observing “clusters” in some communities and chose to combat them.
“The restrictions significantly constrain the extent to which gatherings may occur,” she acknowledged. But she noted that comparable secular gatherings, such as concerts and other events, “are completely prohibited.” I guess she must have forgotten the protests of BLM and Antifa that the Left seems to blatantly ignore.
The balancing act between public health and religious liberty has given the high court trouble since the spring. The justices ruled 5-4 in May against a California church seeking to exceed a 25% capacity limit that was more stringent than local businesses faced. In July, it upheld Nevada’s 50-person limit on church gatherings while letting casinos, bars and restaurants operate at 50% capacity.
This is now a new day and a new court! American houses of worship deserve to be able to meet freely and without government control. This is why we are fighting to expose the lies of those who seek to abuse power in the name of the “pandemic”. We will continue to follow this story.