The Supreme Court has temporarily blocked rules in New York state that seriously restricted church gatherings under the aegis of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
The increasingly conservative court ruled 5-4 that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s limits on places of worship to 10 or 25 worshipers in “hard-hit” regions seem to violate the free exercise of religion clause under the First Amendment to the Constitution, according to a report by USA Today.
“Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” the court’s majority opinion read. “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.”
In earlier actions taken by the high court in response to COVID-inspired state restrictions on churches, justices had refused to lift restrictions on churches in California and Nevada.
In those cases, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberals.
Since then, however, Justice Ruth Ginsburg has died and been replaced with Justice Amy Coney Barrett, giving conservatives a 6-3 majority.
Roberts and the three liberal justices dissented from the ruling on the evening of Nov.25.
Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch took direct aim at Roberts’ opinion in the California case, arguing that ceding authority to elected officials allows rampant unfairness, such as “color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques.”