Governor ‘wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights’ when banning religious meetings

Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The governor of New Jersey said on Wednesday that he had not considered the Bill of Rights when issuing an order banning religious gatherings as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Appearing on Fox News on April 15, Gov. Phil Murphy (D), a Catholic, was questioned by host Tucker Carlson about his executive order in the light of constitutional protections for religious worship and the freedom to congregate.

In Lakewood, New Jersey, 15 people attending a funeral for a recently-deceased rabbi were arrested at a synagogue on April 1 and charged with violating the order. Other religious events, including weddings, have been dispersed by police due to the order.

When asked how these policies were in line with the Constitution, Murphy replied “that’s above my pay grade,” and added that he had not considered the constitution when he made the order.

“I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this,” he said. “First of all, we went to the scientists who said people have to stay away from each other.” Murphy also pointed out that houses of worship already had to comply with various regulations, such as fire codes. 

Following Murphy’s executive order, the public celebration of Mass was suspended in all five of the state’s Catholic dioceses. 

Mark Rienzi, a law professor and president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA that, despite the governor’s comments, considering constitutional rights was well within the scope of Murphy’s role as governor. 

“Governor Murphy’s job, of course, requires him to consider his state’s public health,” Rienzi told CNA in a statement. “He got that job by taking an oath to support the Constitution–including the right to religious exercise.” 

“Far from being ‘above his paygrade,’ swearing to guarantee our rights alongside public health is how he got his paygrade,” Rienzi said. 

According to the 2020 issue of “Student Learning Standards–Social Studies,” which is available on the State of New Jersey Department of Education’s website, by the end of the 12th grade, each New Jersey student should be able to demonstrate detailed understanding of Constitutional rights. 

These include being able to “Assess the importance of the intellectual origins of the Foundational Documents and assess their importance on the spread of democracy around the world” as well as “Prepare and articulate a point of view about the importance of individual rights, separation of powers, and governmental structure in New Jersey’s 1776 constitution and the United States Constitution.” 

The student learning standards also expect high school graduates to have the ability to “Explain why American ideals put forth in the Constitution have been denied to different groups of people throughout time (i.e., due process, rule of law and individual rights).”

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