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Supreme Court overturns NY church restrictions, Brooklyn bishop says religion ‘essential’ during pandemic

“It is time — past time — to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues and mosques,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch in a concurring opinion in a Wednesday night decision.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. James in Brooklyn, NYC. (Credit: quiggyt4/Shutterstock.)

CNA Staff, Nov 26, 2020 / 01:23 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court said Wednesday night that NY state restrictions  during the coronavirus pandemic are a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free religious exercise. After the ruling the Bishop of Brooklyn, whose diocese was a plaintiff in the suit, said that religious worship should be considered an essential during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is time — past time — to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues and mosques,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a concurring opinion in a Wednesday night decision, which temporarily bars restrictions on religious worship that were enacted Oct. 6 by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The court’s ruling is temporary, as lawsuits filed by the Diocese of Brooklyn and by Orthodox Jewish synagogues in New York will continue, though the Supreme Court’s Nov. 26 decision is likely to weigh heavily in the outcome of those cases.

The state’s restrictions forbade the attendance of more than 10 people at religious services in state designated “red zones, and 25 people in “orange zones.”

“In a red zone, while a synagogue or church may not admit more than 10 persons, businesses categorized as ‘essential’ may admit as many people as they wish. And the list of ‘essential’ businesses includes things such as acupuncture facilities, camp grounds, garages, as well as many whose services are not limited to those that can be regarded as essential, such as all plants manufacturing chemicals and microelectronics and all transportation facilities,’ the Court’s majority opinion found.

“These categorizations lead to troubling results,” the decision added.

“Not only is there no evidence that the applicants have contributed to the spread of COVID–19 but there are many other less restrictive rules that could be adopted to minimize the risk to those attending religious services. Among other things, the maximum attendance at a religious service could be tied to the size of the church or synagogue,” the court wrote.

“…even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. 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,” the decision concluded.

The 5-4 decision found newly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett deciding with the majority, while Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s three liberal judges in dissent.

In a statement Thursday, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said he is “gratified by the decision of the Justices of the United States Supreme Court, who have recognized the clear First Amendment violation and urgent need for relief in this case.”

“I am proud to be leading the Diocese of Brooklyn and fighting for our sacred and constitutional right to worship.”

““Our churches have not been the cause of any outbreaks. We have taken our legal battle this far because we should be considered essential, for what could be more essential than safely gathering in prayer in a time of pandemic.”


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  1. Cuomo’s confession of faith and America’s growing ‘state religion’
    By Wallace B. Henley, Exclusive Columnist FOLLOW| Tuesday, April 28, 2020Facebook Twitter Email Print Menu
    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently perhaps unwittingly intoned the confession of faith of the religion of progressivism.

    Noting the decline in the rate of COVID-19 cases in his state, Cuomo proclaimed: “We brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that…” ************************************

    One could almost hear in the background the grand anthem of the religion of progressivism, “Invictus,” written by William Ernest Henley (no kin to me, I hope, as I am sure he would also say were he alive):

    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul…
    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate,
    I am the captain of my soul.

    Those words yank me back mentally to the late 1950s. Sophie Davis, a saintly high school choral director, taught us great Christian anthems. But she also taught us the musical version of “Invictus.” Her motives were pure. She wanted us to stand strong before the world’s travails.

  2. America is divided on many fronts. Most, if not all, is directed to the Trump Administration’s lack of leadership in a very dangerous world. A president who admits no guilt for anything while being adored by my Catholic hierarchy for false reasons. Given that bleak scenario how can the states strategize reasonable control of the spread of the virus? We are dividing again at a most dangerous time. Our need for sacrifice instead of surrender is paramount to our survival. In the meantime our places of worship must be available to parishioners given certain reasonable limitations, not closures.

    “The state’s restrictions forbade the attendance of more than 10 people at religious services in state designated “red zones, and 25 people in “orange zones.”
    New York Governor Cuomo takes action by daily monitoring and taking action on the spread of the virus. CNBC, HEALTH AND SCIENCE: “New York, New Jersey and other Northeastern states form coronavirus working group to decide when to ease restrictions
    PUBLISHED MON, APR 13 20202:12 PM EDTUPDATED MON, APR 13 20206:35 PM EDT

    Few seem to have an answer to the conflict of religious freedom vs COVID deaths of more than 260,000 and climbing, innocent lives lost. I ask that in a world burdened with a pandemic with no vaccine yet, how can we work to solve it with unity?

    Dr. Fauci warns “we must be in this all together”.

    • Trump is NOT adored by the Catholic hierarchy. Possibly 3-5 prelates in the United States support him. Most bishops cannot stand him and voted against him. These false shepherds are the reason our country is in a shambles. Be assured of my prayers, though!

    • Fauci was never all-in. His comments have ranged from denials to affirmations and everything in between. He clearly elevates politics over science. Without President Trumps addition of Justice Barrett to the Supreme Court we would still have a leftist court.

    • I have not heard too many of the Catholic hierarchy support Trump. The few that did of late simply focused on his anti-abortion position and most certainly was not “adored” on any level. Its my observation that the Democrats at every level are fond of seizing power and then using it as a cudgel against the people. That’s why were we seeing hairdressers who were cutting hair on the sidewalk facing jail time. And other absurdities. People are sick of being lied to and asked to make sacrifices while those same DEM leaders try to take advantage in secret ( hairdresser, ms Pelosi???) and break their own rules.While those in the the media scream about death, the reality is given that the population of the country, we do NOT have an extreme number of covid deaths. Not enough to justify the draconian measures that are destroying lives, disrupting families and the bankrupting the economy. People need to grow a spine. Life is NEVER guaranteed. And some of us dont call living in confinement ” life”. We are willing to risk the small statistical chance that living like a human being entails. Several vaccines are right around the corner and may be distributed beginning in December, just as TRUMP had promised.

    • We should not be forced to sacrifice the practice of our religion. This is America. Land of the free. Home of the brave.

      Nations don’t achieve unity by practicing the false virtues put forth by secular leaders. Mask wearing and staying home from work/school/Church accomplishes little and is nothing more than the social control of the masses, in order to appear virtuous. It’s called “virtue signaling” because it’s done for show and has no substance. It’s not for anyone’s benefit. Any domestic violence survivor can tell you how their abuser controlled them to the point of convincing their victim is was “for their own good,” to “keep them safe,” the implication being the victim isn’t capable of knowing what’s best nor able to run their own life. It’s a false sense of security.

      Real virtues are what will unite a nation, and they are best learned on Sundays in our churches and then put to practice in society. Prohibiting a culture from their basic, fundamental practices will eventually weaken that culture, and it will then strive to conform to whatever the person(s) with all the power thinks it should be, in order for that culture to “feel safe.” That’s not freedom, it’s slavery.

  3. I cannot believe that this was not a unanimous decision. I find going to church one of the safest and most uplifting outings available to me as I shelter from the Wuhan virus scourge.

    • Yes. It would appear that at least 4 of our Supreme Court justices lack the ability to read the Constitution. Or, maybe they prefer to justify their partisan positions by pretending the constitution does not exist. The alternative to that is simple incompetence, and a preference for dictatorial government.

  4. Cuomo’s incompetence caused the deaths of eleven thousand elderly people in retirement homes. He should be impeached and imprisoned for manslaughter. But instead the Lunatic Left award him with a Pulitzer Prize.

  5. This decision is one more reason we should be grateful for President Trump’s speeding up the appointment of Justice Barrett. The mask of Justice Robert’s ideology has been ripped off. We now know who and what he is.

  6. Plus he had to be called on the carpet when he was going to travel for Thanksgiving; kinda like the Colorado, Californian and Illinois governors or Whitmer’s husband in their respective cases- do as I say not as I do.

  7. At this point approximately 250,000 people have died from the virus.

    1)How many of them were seniors or already ill or both?
    2)Why is this statistic not part of the daily reporting?
    3)Shouldn’t it be?

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