WASHINGTON (AP) – As coronavirus cases rise again across the country, the Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily banned New York City from enforcing certain attendance limits at places of worship in areas designated as hard-hit by the virus.
The court’s action could push New York to reassess those restrictions. But the court’s action will also not have immediate impact since the two groups that have filed lawsuits over the restrictions, the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues in Brooklyn and Queens, are not there. more submissive.
The groups have filed a lawsuit to challenge attendance limits at places of worship in areas designated as red and orange zones, where New York City had capped attendance at 10 and 25 people, respectively. But groups are now subject to less restrictive rules as they are now located in areas designated by yellow areas.
The judges split 5-4 to prevent the state from enforcing the restrictions against the groups for now, with new judge Amy Coney Barrett in the majority. It was the Conservatives’ first publicly discernible vote as a judge. The three liberal justices of the court and Chief Justice John Roberts dissented.
Judges acted urgently as the prosecution of the restrictions continued. In an unsigned order, a majority of the court said the restrictions “distinguish places of worship for particularly harsh treatment.”
The move was a change for the court. Earlier this year, when Barrett’s liberal predecessor Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in court, judges split 5-4 to leave in place pandemic capacity restrictions affecting churches in California and Nevada .
The court action was a victory for the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues who had filed a lawsuit to challenge state restrictions announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo on October 6.
The Brooklyn Diocese, which covers Brooklyn and Queens, argued that places of worship were unfairly singled out by the governor’s decree. He noted that in red zones, businesses deemed “essential”, from grocery stores to pet stores, can remain open without capacity limits, even if “non-essential” businesses have had to close. And in the orange zones, most businesses can open without capacity restrictions.
The diocese argued it had previously operated safely by capping attendance at 25 percent of a building’s capacity and taking other measures. Parts of Brooklyn and Queens are now in yellow zones where attendance at places of worship is capped at 50% of a building’s capacity.
Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish organization with synagogues affected by the restrictions, also sued. The organization argued that the governor’s restrictions were aimed in particular at the Orthodox Jewish community.
New York, for its part, told the court that religious gatherings were treated less restrictively than secular gatherings which carried the same risk of infection, such as concerts and theatrical performances, which were banned entirely.
Two lower courts sided with New York in allowing restrictions on places of worship to continue. There are currently several designated areas statewide, but no red areas, according to the state website which tracks areas designated hotspots.