A limit imposed on the number of worshippers by the State of New York has been ruled ‘unconstitutional’ by the US Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 majority verdict, the Court prohibited Governor Cuomo from enforcing “severe restrictions” on the number of attendees at religious services.
The case was brought by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and two Orthodox Jewish congregations, but the ruling applies to all religious services.
Governor Cuomo sought to limit statewide gatherings in places of worship to just ten people in designated COVID-19 “red zones” and to 25 people in COVID-19 “orange zones”.
However, the Justices branded the restrictions ‘unconstitutional’ and said they could find no evidence that religious gatherings had “contributed to the spread of COVID–19”.
In their opinion the regulations had singled out “houses of worship for especially harsh treatment” and ruled that, if enforced, the Governor’s Executive Order would cause “irreparable harm”.
In a statement, Justice Gorsuch expressed puzzlement at why uniform restrictions should apply “to the largest cathedrals and synagogues” irrespective of any “precautions taken”, such as social distancing, wearing masks and disinfecting spaces between services.
Who knew public health would so perfectly align with secular convenience?
He also questioned the Governor’s reasons for allowing hardware stores, acupuncturists, and liquor stores to continue to operate unhindered, whilst placing limitations on places of worship.
He said: “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, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians. Who knew public health would so perfectly align with secular convenience?”
Last week the Scottish Government placed eleven council areas in Tier 4, advising churches in such areas not to admit more than 20 people to their services of worship.
According to Government advice:
“Places of worship should not admit more than 50 people in total, regardless of venue size and usual capacity for levels 0-3 and no more than 20 people at level 4”.
The rules are due to end on 11 December.