A lawyer for the law firm that has brought a suit against Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on behalf of Catholic and Orthodox Jewish worshippers in New York praised the Supreme Court for ruling against Cuomo in a religious liberty case.
Thomas More Society Special Counsel Christopher Ferrara applauded the late-night Thanksgiving Eve decision, telling The Daily Wire in a statement: “The Supreme Court has made it clear that governors can no longer use a public health emergency as a pretext for dictates shutting or severely restricting the use of houses of worship while secular businesses and activities they deem ‘essential’ — and even certain favored ‘non-essential’ secular businesses and activities — are not subjected to the same draconian restrictions. What is considered ‘safe’ for grocery stores, liquor stores, and massage parlors, must be considered safe for churches and synagogues.”
“The Court has also ended reliance on the outdated Jacobson decision, a 115-year-old anachronism, which over the past eight months has morphed into a kind of super-precedent for any sort of restriction on constitutional freedoms governors feel like imposing during a public health crisis. Religious liberty has been rescued from the brink of extinction in the name of COVID-19, a virus with a 99.8% survival rate,” Ferrara added.
The Thomas More Society has represented several congregations in their battles against COVID-19 lockdowns, including Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church in Los Angeles.
Late on Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against Cuomo in a case brought against him by the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and two Orthodox Jewish congregations.
As The Daily Wire reported:
The recent confirmation of President Trump-appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett has resulted in its first significant Supreme Court outcome, and it relates to the first protected liberty specified in the Bill of Rights: the free exercise of religion.
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.”