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Supreme Court calls New York’s COVID-19 restrictions ‘discriminatory,’ sides with religious leaders

Mary Margaret Olohan, DCNF

The Supreme Court late Wednesday night sided with religious organizations challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus restrictions and called the New York Democrat’s measures “discriminatory” in its injunction for emergency relief.

The conservative justices, including Justice Amy Coney Barrett, favored the religion organizations in the 5-4 ruling, while Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal justices. It was the first time Barrett was a deciding factor as the court’s newest justice after replacing the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The majority said that Cuomo’s coronavirus restrictions on religious communities are “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.”

Earlier this year, the court sided 5-4 in favor of the liberal justices on COVID-19 religious restrictions in California and Nevada, according to CNN.

Cuomo’s restrictions limit the number of people who can attend religious services to 10 in areas where the threat of coronavirus is highest, regardless of a church or synagogue’s capacity. In areas with slightly less risk, attendance is limited to 25 people.

“New York’s restrictions on houses of worship not only are severe, but also are discriminatory,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in his concurring opinion Wednesday.

“In light of the devastating pandemic, I do not doubt the State’s authority to impose tailored restrictions—even very strict restrictions—on attendance at religious services and secular gatherings alike,” Kavanaugh continued. “But the New York restrictions on houses of worship are not tailored to the circumstances given the First Amendment interests at stake.”

Jewish organizations, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, asked the Supreme Court to consider whether Cuomo’s executive order violates the Free Exercise Clause when it “disfavors worship” and “when the official who issued it made clear through unambiguous statements that the order was targeted at a religious minority’s practices and traditions.”

“The Governor made overwhelmingly clear that his Cluster Initiative was designed to target a particular religious minority that he falsely blames for the spread of COVID-19 — Orthodox Jews,” the request said, referring to Cuomo’s early October statement to the Orthodox community.

Cuomo had said: “If you’re not willing to live with these rules, then I’m going to close the synagogues.”

“The Governor did not attack religious belief generally, but singled out a particular religion for blame and retribution for an uptick in a society-wide pandemic,” the injunction request said. “He threatened ‘members of the ultra-Orthodox community’ and referred to them as a ‘problem,’ due to his own perceptions of the community.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch noted in his opinion that in Cuomo’s judgement, “laundry and liquor, travel and tools, are all ‘essential’ while traditional religious exercises are not.”

“That is exactly the kind of discrimination the First Amendment forbids,” Gorsuch wrote.

Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment from the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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Founded by Tucker Carlson, a 25-year veteran of print and broadcast media, and Neil Patel, former chief policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, The Daily Caller News Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit providing original investigative reporting from a team of professional reporters that operates for the public benefit.

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