SCOTUS blocks New York State from re-imposing COVID restrictions on houses of worship

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by Karen Faulkner, Worthy News Correspondent

(Worthy News) – The US Supreme voted 5-4 to prohibit New York State from re-imposing COVID-19 restrictions on religious gatherings, Politico reports. The court’s emergency ruling issued late on Wednesday night represents a significant shift away from the decisions it made in May and July, when it upheld restrictions on churches in California and Nevada.

Wednesday night’s decision was issued in an unsigned ruling which indicates that Amy Coney Barrett, the latest conservative appointee to take a seat on the bench, sided with the majority. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the remaining three Democratic-appointees in dissenting, Politico reports.

In its narrow rejection of the challenges to coronavirus restrictions brought in May and July, Roberts had sided with the Democratic appointees – at that time to assert that state and local governments require flexibility to deal with the pandemic.

However, the rulings earlier this year were issued prior to the death in September of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Following Barrett’s appointment as Ginsburg’s replacement in October, there are now six conservative and three liberal justices on the nine-member bench.

“Stemming the spread of COVID–19 is unquestionably a compelling interest, but it is hard to see how the challenged regulations can be regarded as ‘narrowly tailored,’” the court said in its ruling. “They are far more restrictive than any COVID–related regulations that have previously come before the Court, much tighter than those adopted by many other jurisdictions hard-hit by the pandemic, and far more severe than has been shown to be required to prevent the spread of the virus at the applicants’ services.”

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch pointedly directed his criticism of New York Governor Cuomo calling him out for inconsistent regulations.

“Government is not free to disregard the First Amendment in times of crisis,” Gorsuch stated in his opinion.

“Governor has chosen to impose no capacity restrictions on certain businesses he considers ‘essential,’” commented Gorsuch, “And it 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?”

“The only explanation for treating religious places differently,” criticized Gorsuch, “seems to be a judgment that what happens there just isn’t as ‘essential’ as what happens in secular spaces.”

“That,” concluded the justice, “is exactly the kind of discrimination the First Amendment forbids.”

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