Court Battles

Supreme Court blocks New York coronavirus restrictions on houses of worship

The Supreme Court late on Wednesday sided with religious challengers to New York state's latest coronavirus pandemic-related restrictions.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court barred New York authorities from enforcing some limits on the number of people attending services in churches and synagogues in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The ruling highlighted the court's recent rightward tilt as newly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett sided with four other conservative justices in the ruling. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the three liberal judges in the dissent.

The ruling marked a shift for the court, as earlier this year, before the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it ruled 5-4 on similar cases out of Nevada and California.

Barrett was quickly confirmed to the bench following Ginsburg's death in September.

In the unsigned majority opinion, the majority ruled for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America, who argued that New York's caps on the number of people who could attend services in designated coronavirus hot spots violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment due to the orders being more restrictive than on other facilities.

In court papers, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) had argued that restrictions on houses of worship were necessary in order to stem the surge of coronavirus cases in the state.

Lower courts had sided with New York in the case.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote of his ruling that it seemed contradictory to say it was unsafe to go to church but not to shop for a new bike.

"So, at least according to the Governor, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike," Gorsuch wrote.

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