Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo Reuters

The National Council of Young Israel today praised the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision which stated that New York State’s COVID-19 directives regarding limits on synagogues and other houses of worship violated the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause and ruled “that enforcement of the Governor’s severe restrictions on the applicants’ religious services must be enjoined.”

"The right of all Americans to enjoy freedom of religion is a sacrosanct privilege afforded to us by the United States Constitution that cannot be trampled upon by anyone, including government officials. For religious individuals and people of faith, having the ability to pray in a synagogue or other place of worship is a core component of their communal life and inhibiting their ability to do so is inequitable and injurious. Houses of worship cannot be singled out in a punitive fashion while it is business as usual at other facilities, and we are grateful that the court ruled that this type of double standard will not be tolerated," the council stated

"The fact is that religious services are essential services and we are gratified that the Supreme Court declared that restrictions placed upon religious services cannot be any more severe than restrictions imposed upon businesses that are deemed essential. First Amendment safeguards for religious services are only protected when such services are not discriminated against and are treated similarly to other constitutionally protected activities.

"While we certainly applaud the court’s ruling, which thankfully eases the restrictions on attendance in synagogues, we continue to encourage synagogues and religious institutions to abide by all COVID-19 guidelines, including following social distancing protocols and requiring attendees to wear masks during any indoor services, which are crucial steps that should be taken in order to help stop the spread of the virus and to keep people safe," the statement concluded.

The court's decision passed with a majority of just one (the court splitting 5 - 4), and was the first time that President Trump's nomination to the court, Amy Coney Barrett, tipped the balance, adding her vote to those of the other conservative-leaning judges.

In its ruling, the court wrote that "It is hard to believe that admitting more than 10 people to a 1,000–seat church or 400–seat synagogue would create a more serious health risk than the many other activities that the State allows."

Citing the loss of First Amendment freedoms, the court also said that "There can be no question that the challenged restrictions, if enforced, will cause irreparable harm." On the other hand, "it has not been shown that granting the applications will harm the public."

"Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty," the court concluded.

"Before allowing this to occur, we have a duty to conduct a serious examination of the need for such a drastic measure."

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