Supreme Court blocks New York Governor from reinstituting Coronavirus capacity limits for religious congregations2 min read

BY- SALOUNI CHAUDHARY

On late Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the US in a narrow 5-4 decision prevented Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York from strictly limiting the numbers of people gathering for worship in churches and synagogues due to the second wave of the Coronavirus.

The majority gave an emergency and temporary stay of an executive order which is aimed at imposing limitations on numbers of people for accommodations that are being used for religious services in the Coronavirus hotspots places because it determined that the plaintiff’s religious institutions or place of worship, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America, were expected to succeed once the order was completely litigated.

The order is mainly applied to areas which are already announced as as red or orange zones/ hotspots. According to order the religious institution in red zone areas could not take more than 10 people, although essential businesses and services are permitted to freely accept individuals. In case of orange zone areas, the maximum number of people at places of worship is 25 people, and here also in case of essential and non-essential businesses, they are allowed to admit as per their discretion as how many people can be admitted at a time.

The majority of the Court ordered that the order was not neutral and equal because it singles out houses of worship for harsh treatment in the state. Because of this it has to apply strict scrutiny in the analysis of this order and determine that it is expected to not pass such scrutiny. This was especially correct because places of worship have never been a source of outbreaks or spreading the pandemic in the way similar to that of schools and other businesses have been in the state.

The decision of the majority was issued as a per curium’s arguments, meaning it was not signed by any particular justice of the court. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh both have given their own point of view giving clarification on how they would go on with the issue. Chief Justice John Roberts dissented the holding, clarifying that injunctive relief or temporary relief was no longer needed because none of the accommodation of worship at issue in the concerned case is anymore subject to a fixed numerical restriction with regard to the number of worshippers because as of now none of the houses at this time are in “red zones.” Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan also opposed, saying that the Governor has sufficient power to respond in such a manner keeping in the view the Coronavirus

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