Another possible win for religious gatherings during COVID restrictions? Last week, as Liberty Nation’s Legal Affairs Editor Scott D. Cosenza reported, the Supreme Court ruled that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) overstepped his authority and “likely discriminated against religious worshippers, violating their First Amendment rights.” Next on the list is the state of New Jersey, which Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. has given until Dec. 3 to respond to a similar case.
Earlier this year, Fr. Kevin Robinson of Saint Anthony of Padua Church and Rabbi Yisrael A. Knopfler filed suits arguing that the Garden State was applying COVID-19 restrictions unfairly to religious institutions. The application states, in part, that:
“The First Amendment protects religious exercise from discriminatory value judgments by public authorities in the exercise of ‘emergency powers’. More than eight months into the era of COVID-19, however, religious gatherings in New Jersey (and several other states) are still being treated unequally relative to numerous comparable secular activities.”
In addition, the suit also says the mask mandate for the state is a violation of the Constitution’s free exercise clause, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
As have many other state officials, Democratic New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy reacted to reports of growing coronavirus cases and extended his health emergency declaration – for the ninth time. Indoor gatherings have been limited to a maximum of 10 people, which included religious gatherings.
Previously Unimaginable Restrictions
Once the lower court rejected the suit’s request for an injunction, Robison and Knopfler appealed to the Supreme Court. After the Dec. 3 deadline, Alito can issue a ruling unilaterally because New Jersey is part of his jurisdiction. Alito’s stance on COVID-restrictions imposed upon citizens by lawmakers is well-known – and criticized. As LN’s Graham J. Noble reported on the Nov. 12 speech delivered to the Federalist Society by the associate justice: “The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty,” adding that “[w]e have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive, and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020.”
Given Alito’s position that some state officials have gone too far and imposed too much control over their citizens during this pandemic, it seems likely New Jersey may see a win for religious folks. Only time will tell, but as more institutions, businesses, and the American people become impatient and just “done with it,” we may see more officials facing similar lawsuits. Again, the only real surprise here is that it has taken so long for people to begin to fight back, but then the wheels of justice turn slowly. Determining a balance that serves the Constitution, the people, and the health crisis – albeit one that has an average survival rate of more than 99% – is, for government officials, no easy task, even if it should be.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.