The Supreme Court has ruled against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, preventing him from setting attendance limits on churches and synagogues.
On late Wednesday, the Supreme Court issued a temporary block on Cuomo’s plan to set capacity limits on churches and other houses of worship in state-designated coronavirus hot spots.
The New York Post reports that the 5-4 ruling sided with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Orthodox Jewish synagogues that sued the governor for its state-imposed regulations in zones designated as orange and red. “Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” the Supreme Court opinion said. “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.”
Currently, the ruling has little impact on churches and synagogues, as many of them are not currently subject to attendance limits as they are in yellow zones.
According to the Supreme Court ruling, Cuomo violated the religious liberties of religious groups under the First Amendment. The groups argued that they were unfairly targeted by strict restrictions not currently levied over so-called “essential businesses.”
“The applicants have clearly established their entitlement to relief pending appellate review. They have shown that their First Amendment claims are likely to prevail, that denying them relief would lead to irreparable injury, and that granting relief would not harm the public interest. Because of the need to issue an order promptly, we provide only a brief summary of the reasons why immediate relief is essential,” the opinion states.
The Supreme Court also described the restrictions imposed on houses of worship categorized through zones “lead to troubling results,” pointing out that in a hearing to the District Court, a health department official testified that a large store in Brooklyn designated as an essential business could “literally have hundreds of people shopping there on any given day.”
“Government is not free to disregard the First Amendment in times of crisis. At a minimum, that Amendment prohibits government officials from treating religious exercises worse than comparable secular activities, unless they are pursuing a compelling interest and using the least restrictive means available,” said Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was newly confirmed by President Trump, cast the deciding vote in favor of the churches and synagogues. The New York Post reports that Chief Justice John Roberts joined three liberal justices in dissenting.