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SC Halts NY Covid-19 Restrictions on Places of Worship

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NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo makes an announcement and holds media briefing at 3rd Avenue office-NY Covid-19 Restrictions-ss-featured

The US Supreme Court blocked NY Covid-19 restrictions on houses of worship. The SC issued an emergency injunction protecting churches and synagogues from discriminatory restrictions. Governor Andrew Cuomo issued restrictions in places of worship to help control coronavirus.

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The Court said that they viewed Cuomo’s rules  “as targeting the ultra-Orthodox community.” As such, it violates the First Amendment by treating religious exercise harsher than secular activities. 

Coronavirus Clusters

In October, NY state identified six coronavirus clusters in areas that take 2.8% of the population. These include areas in Brooklyn, Queens, and Broome, Orange, and Rockland counties. The outbreak in these areas required school and business closures. Plus, the state-imposed limits on gatherings. It resulted in a temporary limiting of religious gatherings to 25 percent capacity. This translates to a maximum of 10 people. 

As a result, three Rockland County Jewish congregations sued the state for a “streak of anti-Semitic discrimination.” Meanwhile, NYC churches filed a separate suit saying the measures unfairly punish them. Cuomo denied targeting religious communities. He said coronavirus incidences determined the cluster zoning. He said the majority of  Ultra-Orthodox groups were cooperative. “There’s a relatively small number that’s uncooperative, and just believe they should be exempt from these government operations,” he added.

5-4 Decision

The Supreme Court decision ended in a 5-4 vote in favor of the plaintiffs. Notably, new SC Justice Amy Coney Barrett provided the tie-breaker for the conservatives. Meanwhile, Chief Justice John Roberts was the fourth dissenting opinion. He joined the Court’s liberal justices in disagreeing with the majority. In total, the court issued six separate opinions during the deliberations. This may signify a greater rift with the Supreme Court. 

As the main (but unsigned) opinion, the majority ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. They agreed that the orders were in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Also, the majority agreed that these state regulations treated the houses of worship worse than secular facilities. The rules were “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.”

Religious Groups Celebrate Victory of the First Amendment

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn issued a statement Thursday morning. They applauded the court’s decision. Plus, they thanked the SC for recognizing a “clear First Amendment violation and an urgent need for relief in this case.” Brooklyn Bishop Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio stated: “I have said from the beginning the restrictions imposed by Governor Cuomo were an overreach that did not take into account the size of our churches or the safety protocols that have kept parishioners safe.”

 Similarly, Agudath Israel EVP Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel issued a statement as well. This is a historic victory…This landmark decision will ensure that religious practices and religious institutions will be protected from government edicts that do not treat religion with the respect demanded by the Constitution,” it read.

‘It’s a Different Court’

Cuomo said Thursday that the SC ruling in essence was the court “making a statement that it’s a different court.” He said that the point was moot in some places as he already lifted some restrictions. “I would agree with those people who say it’s a different court, and they wanted to make a statement that it’s a different court. That’s the statement they’re making, I understand that” he said.

 “It’s irrelevant from any practical impact because the zone that they were talking about has already been moot,” Cuomo said. “I think this was really just an opportunity for the court to express its philosophy and politics.” Besides, the decision isn’t final. The period that the SC halts NY Covid-19 restrictions is only until the resolution of the appeals comes out. “It didn’t affect our mass gathering rules,” Cuomo added. “It didn’t mention the overall limits.”

Watch the NewsNOW from FOX report on the Supreme Court’s ruling against NY Governor Andrew Cuomo on religious Covid restrictions:

Supreme Court saying that the New York state restrictions on houses of worship are in violation of the First Amendment?

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