Last week, on the night before Thanksgiving Day, the U.S. Supreme Court gave us one more reason to be thankful.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled to immediately halt enforcement of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s discriminatory COVID-19 restrictions on churches and synagogues.
This bodes well for churches and other houses of worship across the country that have been treated unfairly by COVID restrictions—including Alliance Defending Freedom client, Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley.
As the Supreme Court made clear in its ruling, “even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”
But that is exactly what some government officials across the country have been doing.
In New York, for example, Governor Cuomo created different-colored “zones” with varying levels of gathering restrictions. In the red and orange zones, attendance at religious services is capped to 10 and 25 people, respectively. In contrast, secular businesses that are deemed “essential” can admit as many people as they wish. These businesses include hardware stores, acupuncturists, liquor stores, and bicycle repair shops.
As Justice Neil Gorsuch pointed out in his concurring opinion:
The only explanation for treating religious places differently seems to be a judgment that what happens there just isn’t as “essential” as what happens in secular spaces. Indeed, the Governor is remarkably frank about this: In his judgment laundry and liquor, travel and tools, are all “essential” while traditional religious exercises are not. That is exactly the kind of discrimination the First Amendment forbids.
Unfortunately, New York’s unconstitutional treatment of churches is not an isolated occurrence.
Since the start of the outbreak, ADF has assisted, or equipped others to assist, over 3,000 churches and ministries on COVID-19 related issues.
And we continue to do so.
ADF currently represents Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley in a challenge to Nevada restrictions that treat secular businesses much better than houses of worship. For example, Nevada officials have allowed casinos to operate at half capacity, while churches and other houses of worship were only permitted to have 50 people in their services, regardless of the size of the church or the rigorous health and safety protocols that they put in place.
Next week, ADF attorneys will defend Calvary Chapel against these unfair restrictions at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Calvary Chapel also has asked the Supreme Court to immediately halt these restrictions while its case continues.
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling on behalf of houses of worship in New York is welcome news. And it should cause government officials to take a hard look at their COVID-19 restrictions to ensure they are not treating religious gatherings worse than secular ones.
In the words of Justice Gorsuch: “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.”