As we were preparing for our Thanksgiving celebrations, you may have missed a Supreme Court ruling in a case out of New York. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on attendance at churches and synagogues was unconstitutional.
That is the simple, and immediate issue, at hand. But the ruling was far more significant.
Jewish and Christian congregations in New York came together to challenge Cuomo’s ruling in New York that limited attendance at houses of worship. But what is often overlooked, is that the issue was NOT the ability of the New York Governor to limit the size of gatherings. What was at issue was discrimination against religion. The lawsuit did not try to say that the Governor couldn’t limit public gatherings to fight the coronavirus. The lawsuit argued, and the Supreme Court agreed, that Gov. Cuomo was blatantly discriminating against religion because the limits he set on houses of worship were different than the limits he set for other public gatherings. On its face, that’s discrimination. Why would churches and synagogues be singled out for more restrictions?
And it was not a case that the Supreme Court said you could not limit the size of gatherings, as earlier this year the Court ruled in a California case that gatherings could be limited, including those for churches and other places of worship. However, in the California case, the limits were the same for all gatherings.
In New York, the limits were stricter for religious people and that’s wrong, morally and according to the Constitution.
Justice Gorsuch wrote in his concurrence: “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. That is exactly the kind of discrimination the First Amendment forbids.”