The Supreme Court reversed the decisions of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo regarding the restriction of religious services in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. The Court held that the Governor’s restrictions violate the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion.
Donald Trump’s conservative nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, was instrumental in a 5-4 decision. The court’s decision is totally contrary to previous rulings on churches in Nevada and California in which the Court allowed governors to restrict religious services in temples.
While in New York City hundreds of people went to large stores in Brooklyn, the governor limited religious gatherings to 10 or 25 people. The Supreme Court said Cuomo’s measures were excessive.
“[The New York Restrictions] are much more restrictive than any COVID-related regulations previously submitted to the Court, much stricter than those adopted by many other jurisdictions affected by the pandemic, and much more severe than what has been shown to be necessary to prevent the spread of the virus in applicants’ services,” the Court noted.
Justice Neil Gorsuch stated that “the government is not free to ignore the First Amendment in times of crisis,” noting that Cuomo had treated religious activities less favorably than non-religious ones.
“The governor has chosen not to impose capacity restrictions on certain businesses that he considers ‘essential,'” Gorsuch said.
“It turns out that the companies that the governor considers essential include hardware stores, acupuncturists and liquor stores. Bicycle repair shops, certain signaling companies, accountants, lawyers and insurance agents are also essential,” he criticized.
“So, at least according to the governor, it may not be safe to go to church, but it’s always good to buy another bottle of wine, buy a new bike or spend the afternoon exploring the distal points and meridians. Who knew that public health would align so perfectly with secular convenience? “, Gorsuch said in his opinion.
“The only explanation for treating religious places differently seems to be a judgment that what happens there is not as ‘essential’ as what happens in secular spaces,” Gorsuch said,
“That is exactly the kind of discrimination prohibited by the First Amendment,” the judge concluded.
Cuomo: Let’s close Christmas in New York
The restrictions decreed by Cuomo define changing “red zones” where the risk of coronavirus is greatest, and where no more than 10 people can attend religious services. In the slightly less dangerous “orange zones,” attendance is limited to 25. This applies even to churches that can accommodate more than 1,000 people.
The high court’s order responds to two lawsuits: one filed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, the other by two synagogues, an Orthodox Jewish organization and two individuals.
Both lawsuits claim that the restrictions imposed by the governor violate constitutional protections for the free exercise of religion, and the synagogues’ request states that Cuomo had “singled out a particular religion as being responsible for the increase in cases. He claims that the governor retaliated for the increase in the pandemic.
On Wednesday, November 11, Cuomo announced a series of restrictive measures to try to stem the tide of contagion that included a curfew for bars, restaurants and gyms.
One of the impositions is that private meetings cannot exceed ten people. Infobae report that “the new measures, which take effect on Friday, come one day after California and several Midwestern states tightened restrictions on residents on Tuesday to try to slow the rapid spread of the virus.
The announcements were accompanied by a series of recommendations for Christmas. The data provided range from virtual dinners, internet shopping and caroling in the streets, but with social distancing.