The United States Supreme Court has backed a religious challenge from religious groups against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Covid restrictions which limited attendance to religious services.
The definitive and deciding vote was cast by none other than Justice Amy Coney-Barrett
According to The Daily Wire:
In a 5-4 ruling late Wednesday night, the Supreme Court backed a religious challenge to Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions limiting attendance at religious services. The majority ruling blocks enforcement of the restrictions while the applicants pursue appellate review. The ruling highlights the lack of evidence that the applicants — the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, two Jewish synagogues, and an Orthodox Jewish organization — have contributed to the spread of the virus and questions the rationale of the specifics of Cuomo’s restrictions, which limited services to just 10 and 25 occupants for red and orange zones, respectively.
“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 reads. “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 asserts. “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.”
Justice Gorsuch concurred and made it clear that the government is not free to subvert the constitution in times of crisis, writing, “Government is not free to disregard the First Amendment in times of crisis. At a minimum, that Amendment prohibits government officials from treating religious exercises worse than comparable secular activities, unless they are pursuing a compelling interest and using the least restrictive means available. … Yet recently, during the COVID pandemic, certain States seem to have ignored these long-settled principles. Today’s case supplies just the latest example.”
The Supreme Court has made previous rulings earlier this year where it refused to back similar challenges in California and Nevada. However, this was before Justice Amy Coney-Barrett was confirmed.
Cuomo has responded to the loss and it appears he doesn’t want to comply:
On Thursday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had the Supreme Court rule against him, and in favor of the Archdiocese of Brooklyn and two Orthodox Jewish congregations in a religious liberty case, dismissed the ruling as not having “any practical effect” because religious groups still have to follow New York City’s rule of limiting religious services to 50 percent.
“That Supreme Court ruling on the religious gatherings is more illustrative of the Supreme Court than anything else,” Cuomo said, according to the New York Post. “It’s irrelevant of any practical impact because of the zone they were talking about is moot. It expired last week. It doesn’t have any practical effect. The lawsuit was about the Brooklyn zone. The Brooklyn zone no longer exists as a red zone. That’s muted. So that restriction is no longer in effect. That situation just doesn’t exist because those restrictions are gone.”
The Post added, “In its decision, the nation’s highest court said its decision temporarily blocking Cuomo’s executive order on the 10- and 25-person occupancy limits remains in effect pending further deliberation in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. They acknowledged the order narrowly addressed the zones in question, which are outdated.”
The Court noted that the plaintiffs “seek relief from an Executive Order issued by the Governor of New York that imposes very severe restrictions on attendance at religious services in areas classified as ‘red’ or ‘orange’ zones. In red zones, no more than 10 persons may attend each religious service, and in orange zones, attendance is capped at 25. The two applications, one filed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and the other by Agudath Israel of America and affiliated entities, contend that these restrictions violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and they ask us to enjoin enforcement of the restrictions while they pursue appellate review.”
Cuomo is defiant in his regular fear-mongering ways and appears to be drunk with power. Justice Neil Gorsuch seemingly noticed this and wrecked Cuomo in his concurrence, writing, “[I]t turns out the businesses the Governor considers essential include hardware stores, acupuncturists, and liquor stores. Bicycle repair shops, certain signage companies, accountants, lawyers, and insurance agents are all essential too. So, at least 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?”