US Supreme Court backs religious groups over New York virus curbs

Lawrence Hurley, Reuters

Posted at Nov 26 2020 02:44 PM

US Supreme Court backs religious groups over New York virus curbs 1
A Sunday service at St. Agatha Roman Catholic Church in New York, Oct. 24, 2020. Religious services were shut down by New York state at the end of March and were not allowed to resume until June. Since reopening, churches, synagogues and mosques throughout the city have mandated masks, limited the number of people in each service, employed strict cleaning regimens and abbreviated the length of services. James Estrin, The New York Times/File

WASHINGTON - The US Supreme Court late on Wednesday backed Christian and Jewish houses of worship challenging New York state's latest restrictions in novel coronavirus hot spots.

The court on a 5-4 vote granted requests made by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and 2 Orthodox Jewish congregations.

The order marked one of the first consequential actions on the court of President Donald Trump's new appointee, conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast a deciding vote in favor of the religious groups. Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts dissented along with the court's 3 liberals.

An Oct. 6 decision by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo shut down non-essential businesses in targeted areas where infections have spiked, including some Brooklyn neighborhoods. It limited gatherings at religious institutions to 10 people in some areas and 25 in others.

The houses of worship say that the limits violated religious freedoms protected by the US Constitution’s First Amendment, and that their facilities were singled out for more stringent restrictions than essential businesses, such as food stores. 

The Orthodox congregations include Agudath Israel of Kew Garden Hills and Agudath Israel of Madison, as well as nationwide Orthodox Jewish group Agudath Israel of America.

A federal judge in Brooklyn rejected separate requests made by the religious groups on Oct. 9. The New York-based 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals declined emergency requests filed by both sets of challengers on Nov. 9.

In 2 previous cases this year, the court on 5-4 votes turned away similar requests by churches in Nevada and California.

Those votes occurred before the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and saw her and her 3 liberal colleagues joined by Roberts in the majority.

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