November 26, 2020 10:03 am
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scotus church ruling a major step forward for challenges to coronavirus bans

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 vote to bar New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas that have been hit hard by COVID-19 marked a “major step” for people and entities challenging such restrictions, George Washington University Law professor Jonathan Turley said Thursday. 

“It was a fascinating case,” Turley, a Fox News contributor, said on “Fox and Friends.” “You had the five justices that ruled against New York in this case. It might have been six, because Chief Justice (John) Roberts said he was not saying that the restrictions imposed by Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo were constitutional. He just didn’t see that there was a need at this time for the court to step in.”

The court’s order addressed one case filed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and another by two synagogues, an Orthodox Jewish organization, and two individuals. The cases fought back at Cuomo’s strict orders that capped church attendance at 10 people in “red zones,” where the risk of coronavirus is highest, and 25 people in “orange zones,” where there was slightly less risk. 

The complaints said the restrictions were unconstitutional violations of the free exercise of religion, and the case from the synagogues said Cuomo had “singled out a particular religion for blame and retribution for an uptick in a societywide pandemic.”

Roberts’ concerns were “swatted back” by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who said the second circuit could rule on the matter, but “we want to make sure that these churches and synagogues know that they can continue in these houses of worship,” said Turley. 

The case is “major,” he added, “because we have seen across the country these challenges, not just with religious organizations, but also we saw that very interesting challenge recently in Kentucky with regard to schools.”

The Kentucky case, he said, involves opponents arguing that science does not support school closures, particularly with young children, and the New York case argues bans violate free exercise of religion. 

“So these are very interesting cases, and last night was a major step for the challengers across the country,” said Turley. 

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