The Supreme Court of the United States has slammed New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on religious services as a clear violation of Constitution’s First Amendment protecting the free exercise of religion.
In the Court’s opinion, it wrote:
“It is hard to believe that admitting more than 10 people to a 1,000–seat church or 400–seat synagogue would create a more serious health risk than the many other activities that the State allows.”
“Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. 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.”
Previous rulings concerning churches in California and Nevada were split five to four with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. siding with the four activist justices and allowing those states’ governors to restrict attendance at religious services.
This time the Chief Justice, once considered conservative, was out-voted by the five originalist justices upholding the Constitution’s original intentions, notably including President Trump’s latest appointee, Justice Amy Coney-Barrett.
Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote:
“Government is not free to disregard the First Amendment in times of crisis.”
“…According to the Governor, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians. Who knew public health would so perfectly align with secular convenience?”
“The only explanation for treating religious places differently seems to be a judgment that what happens there just isn’t as “essential” as what happens in secular spaces. Indeed, the Governor is remarkably frank about this: In his judgment laundry and liquor, travel and tools, are all “essential” while traditional religious exercises are not. That is exactly the kind of discrimination the First Amendment forbids.”
“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.”
Dissenting, Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his opinion:
“Numerical capacity limits of 10 and 25 people, depending on the applicable zone, do seem unduly restrictive. It is not necessary, however, for us to rule on that serious and difficult question at this time.
“The governor might reinstate the restrictions, but he also might not. And it is a significant matter to override determinations made by public health officials concerning what is necessary for public safety in the midst of a deadly pandemic. If the governor does reinstate the numerical restrictions the applicants can return to this court, and we could act quickly on their renewed applications.”
Representative Andy Biggs tweeted:
The Constitution is NOT a suggestion, & religious freedom should still be upheld across every community in our nation. Tonight, the U.S. Supreme Court, led by 3 of President @realDonaldTrump’s appointments, affirmed our commitment to religious freedom. https://t.co/leLi2clsop— Rep Andy Biggs (@RepAndyBiggsAZ) November 26, 2020
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