In a five-to-four ruling late Wednesday, the top US court banned New York state from imposing different restrictions on places of worship to fight the pandemic. Presented by the majority as a defense of religious freedom, the decision is more revealing of the court, commented the next day the governor of the state, Andrew Cuomo.
Religious services should not be treated any differently from permitted non-religious gatherings, the majority said in an unsigned judgment, with new judge Amy Coney Barrett tipping the scales in the Tory side.
Governor Andrew Cuomo had limited to ten the number of people who could meet in places of worship in the
red areas, where the virus circulates a lot, and at 25 in
The Supreme Court ruled that these measures were contrary to the free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Even in times of pandemic, we cannot put aside and forget the Constitution. (…) The restrictions at play here, by actually preventing many from attending religious services go to the very heart of the protection of freedom of worship provided by the First Amendment.
Called to rule on similar restrictions in California, in May, and Nevada in July, while progressive judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg was still sitting, the court had reached a different conclusion in decisions also rendered five to four. .
This shift reflects the new balance of power at the Supreme Court since the arrival in late October of Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative Catholic judge appointed by President Donald Trump after the death of Justice Ginsburg.
In fact, restrictions had already been relaxed in New York state pending the court verdict, according to NBC News.
Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, like the President of the Court, John Roberts, issued a dissenting opinion, disagreeing with the judgment.
John Roberts felt there was no need to support the groups' complaints given the governor's hindsight.
But conservative judge Neil Gorsuch argued Governor Cuomo favored secular activities over religious activities.
The pandemic has fueled serious tensions between Democratic City Hall and New York's Orthodox Jewish community, accused of failing to respect health distancing rules. It had sparked sometimes violent protests in Brooklyn last month.
The United States lamented Wednesday, on the eve of the hugely popular Thanksgiving, more than 2,400 deaths from the coronavirus in 24 hours.
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