Supreme Court Rules New York Can’t Impose Covid-19 Restrictions On Places Of Worship
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that sanctions limiting faith gatherings during the global pandemic could not be enforced in New York, after justices sided with religious group.
New York was one of the worst-hit areas in the US for infection rates and death tolls during the height of lockdown earlier this year. The chamber of judges, however, which now includes conservative Amy Coney Barrett, took the side of those wishing to gather in a house of worship.
Three prominent NYC religious organisations, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and two Orthodox Jewish congregations, argued that the restrictions set up by the city’s mayor, Andrew Cuomo, impeded on religious freedoms protected under the United States Constitution.
After both New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and federal judges dismissed their protestation, they sought help from the Supreme Court, which ruled in their favour with a 5-4 split.
The groups argued that banning mass gatherings, even as the US was experiencing an alarming number of infections and deaths on a daily basis, ‘single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment’, according to Forbes.
In October, Mayor Cuomo enforced an Executive Order that closed all non-essential shops, while keeping open the ones deemed necessary, such as grocery stores. Houses of worship were permitted to stay open but had attendance caps between 10 and 25 people, depending on whether the location was an orange or red zone.
In their lawsuit, the Diocese of Brooklyn argued they were already operating safely at capacity of 25%. However, this new ruling won’t have any immediate impact because a lowering of infection numbers has already been recorded in areas where these religious groups operate, thus having already had restrictions eased.
‘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 colour-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shuts churches, synagogues and mosques,’ Justice Neil Gorsuch said in a concurring opinion. ‘Who knew public health would so perfectly align with secular convenience?’
That said, in opposition to allowing mass gatherings, New York Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood said there is a ‘documented history of religious gatherings serving as Covid-19 superspreader events’, in a letter directed to the court.
She expressed that indoor religious services ‘tend to involve large numbers of people from different households’ who would be interacting with one another, thus exacerbating infection numbers.
Chief Justice John Roberts, one of the four who voted against opening up religious locations, said that despite not agreeing with the complaint’s protestations, he thought initial restrictions were harsh: ‘Numerical capacity limits of 10 and 25 people, depending on the applicable zone, do seem unduly restrictive.’
President Trump’s recent appointment of Barrett, it seems, swung the vote on this occasion, with a conservative majority of 6-3 now sitting on the Supreme Court, after he managed to swear in three new judges – Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – in his one term as POTUS.
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