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SCOTUS Sides With Religious Groups Over COVID Restrictions

High court rules against New York coronavirus restrictions
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 26, 2020 1:45 AM CST
Updated Nov 26, 2020 6:23 AM CST

(Newser) – As coronavirus cases surge again nationwide the Supreme Court late Wednesday temporarily barred New York from enforcing certain attendance limits at houses of worship in areas designated as hard hit by the virus, the AP reports. The court’s action could push New York to reevaluate those restrictions. But the court’s action also won’t have any immediate impact since the two groups that sued as a result of the restrictions, the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues in Brooklyn and Queens, are no longer subject to them. The groups sued to challenge attendance limits at houses of worship in areas designated red and orange zones, where New York had capped attendance at 10 and 25 people, respectively. But the groups are now subject to less-restrictive rules because they're now in areas designated yellow zones.

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The justices split 5-4 to bar the state from enforcing the restrictions against the groups for now, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the majority. It was the conservative's first publicly discernible vote as a justice. The court’s three liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts dissented. The justices acted on an emergency basis while lawsuits challenging the restrictions continued. In an unsigned order, a majority of the court said the restrictions “single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.” New York, for its part, had argued to the court that religious gatherings were being treated less restrictively than secular gatherings that carried the same infection risk, like concerts and theatrical performances, which were prohibited entirely. Two lower courts had sided with New York in allowing the restrictions on houses of worship to stand.

(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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