In a 5-4 vote late on Wednesday, the court granted requests made by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and two Orthodox Jewish congregations to cancel attendance limits at places of worship in “red and orange” zones.
The top court said in the unsigned ruling that religious services should not be treated differently from permitted secular gatherings: “Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”
The restrictions “strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty,” the ruling added.
The religious groups claimed that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s order on October 6 singled them out under the curbs designed to limit the spread of coronavirus infections. Only up to 10 people could gather at sites of worship in the “red zones,” while “essential” businesses were allowed to remain open without capacity limitations.
Separate requests made by the groups were rejected by a federal judge in Brooklyn on October 9, and in a month, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York declined the challengers’ emergency requests.
The Supreme Court made a different ruling in similar cases in May and July, when it allowed governors to restrict attendance at religious services in California and Nevada.
This time, new Justice Amy Coney Barrett cast the deciding vote, showing how the court’s balance tipped to the conservatives. In September President Trump nominated her to the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by the death of veteran liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
However, the new ruling will not have an immediate effect as the state has already put the groups to “yellow zones,” making them subject to less-restrictive rules.
Think your friends would be interested? Share this story!