On Thanksgiving Eve, the Supreme Court of the United States sided with religious groups that had challenged the constitutionality of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus restrictions.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the latest addition to the court whose confirmation, it was believed, would cement a firm conservative majority on the bench was, for the first time, the deciding vote.
It couldn’t have been a more fitting case for this devoutly Christian originalist Justice to demonstrate her decided commitment to protecting the intentions of our framers, either!
Let us pray this is only the beginning of decades of such just rulings that will restore our nation’s regard for our nation’s founding philosophy—and the God in whom we trust.
The conservative justices Wednesday evening agreed 5-4 that Cuomo’s restrictions on religious gatherings were “discriminatory,” The Western Journal explains.
Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s remaining liberal justices.
“Not only is there no evidence that the applicants have contributed to the spread of COVID–19 but there are many other less restrictive rules that could be adopted to minimize the risk to those attending religious services,” the decision states.
“Among other things, the maximum attendance at a religious service could be tied to the size of the church or synagogue. Almost all of the 26 Diocese churches immediately affected by the Executive Order can seat at least 500 people, about 14 can accommodate at least 700, and 2 can seat over 1,000. Similarly, Agudath Israel of Kew Garden Hills can seat up to 400. 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,” the ruling continues.
“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. Before allowing this to occur, we have a duty to conduct a serious examination of the need for such a drastic measure.”
“The applicants have made the showing needed to obtain relief, and there is no reason why they should bear the risk of suffering further irreparable harm in the event of another reclassification,” the ruling concludes. “For these reasons, we hold that enforcement of the Governor’s severe restrictions on the applicants’ religious services must be enjoined.”
The court has previously ruled 5-4 in favor of restrictions on worship in cases in California and Nevada respectively, before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, hence being ultimately replaced by Barrett, President Donald Trump’s 3rd Supreme Court nominee, in a hurried confirmation process in the Republican-controlled Senate just weeks ahead of the November 3rd election.
“New York’s restrictions on houses of worship not only are severe, but also are discriminatory,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the second most recently appointed Justice, wrote in his concurring opinion on Wednesday.
“In light of the devastating pandemic, I do not doubt the State’s authority to impose tailored restrictions — even very strict restrictions — on attendance at religious services and secular gatherings alike,” he continued.
“But the New York restrictions on houses of worship are not tailored to the circumstances given the First Amendment interests at stake.”
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing members of the Orthodox Jewish community, requested that the high court consider if Cuomo’s executive order had violated the Constitution where it “disfavors worship” and “when the official who issued it made clear through unambiguous statements that the order was targeted at a religious minority’s practices and traditions.”
“The Governor made overwhelmingly clear that his [executive order] was designed to target a particular religious minority that he falsely blames for the spread of COVID-19 — Orthodox Jews,” the case asserted.
In early October, Cuomo told members of the Orthodox Jewish community that if they “weren’t willing” to live with his rules, “then I’m going to close the synagogues.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also famously threatened the Jewish community in his city with jail time should they refuse to practice social distancing—not too long before he was praising the densely-packed Black Lives Matter protests in which is own daughter was arrested at one point.
“The Governor did not attack religious belief generally, but singled out a particular religion for blame and retribution for an uptick in a society-wide pandemic,” the injunction request said of Cuomo.
“He threatened ‘members of the ultra-Orthodox community’ and referred to them as a ‘problem,’ due to his own perceptions of the community.”
President Trump’s first SCOTUS appointment, Justice Neil Gorsuch, wrote in his opinion that under Cuomo’s restrictions, “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,” Gorsuch explained.
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