SCOTUS Gives Second COVID-19 Win to Religious Organizations

SCOTUS Gives Second COVID-19 Win to Religious Organizations

( – America is facing two competing ideas. Either America is a country that believes in its Constitution and the freedoms given under it, or the founding document must be temporarily sidelined to protect people. In two states run by Democratic governors, the latter was chosen to the dismay of church leaders and citizens alike.

Last spring, Attorney General Bill Barr reminded authorities that the Constitution did not cease because of a pandemic. Some liberal governors are learning this the hard way. After shutting down church services in California and New York to limit the spread of COVID-19, the Supreme Court is reminding them about the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion.

Supreme Court Blocks COVID-19 Enforcements

In October, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order imposing heavy restrictions on religious service attendance. The governor permitted only 10 worshippers in what was deemed a red zone and 25 in an orange zone. Soon after, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn filed a lawsuit claiming the governor’s actions violated the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.

On November 25, the Supreme Court agreed with the diocese and blocked Cuomo’s order, prohibiting the government from enforcing occupancy limits on churches and other places of worship. The injunction was firm and direct. The conservative justices noted in a lengthy ruling that hundreds of people could shop in a department store at one time, but a nearby house of worship couldn’t have more than 10 or 25 people.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote, “Government is not free to disregard the First Amendment in times of crisis.” He added that the governor apparently believes it’s not safe to go to church, but it is to pick up alcohol, a new bicycle, or enjoy any other secular convenience. Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the governor’s orders weren’t just severe, they were also discriminatory.

Supreme Court Signals Ruling Applies Nationwide

On the other side of the country in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) instituted restrictions on houses of worship similar to the ones in New York. Religious organizations expressed frustration that manufacturing, service businesses, and retailers were dealt with less severely than they were being treated.

Again, the Supreme Court agreed. Echoing the Attorney General’s statement last spring, the court wrote, “Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.” Instead of issuing a ruling themselves, the high court ordered judges in California to follow its ruling in New York and lift the COVID-19 restrictions on places of worship.

The Supreme Court’s rulings in New York and California ought to be a reminder to elected officials that the government doesn’t have the right to do as it pleases just because there’s a pandemic. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.”

Unfortunately, the founding father was wise. It will probably not be the last overreach by the government.

At least for now, a conservative court is willing to ensure religious liberties are upheld.

Don Purdum, Independent Political Analyst

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