Ever since ACB joined the Supreme Court, there’s been a dramatic reversal of the treatment of religious worship in the coronavirus era.
Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. New York was the first real pushback, but the SCOTUS majority is using it to carve out more territory for religious freedom in two cases, one involving the High Plains Harvest Church in Colorado, and the other involving a Catholic church and Orthodox synagogue in New Jersey.
The Colorado case is interesting because one of the arguments involved the different treatment accorded to Black Lives Matter riots.
In addition to these express exemptions, the State has extended the de facto exemption to the Protests. Thousands of protesters marched, chanted, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder for hours on end, all the while ignoring any semblance of social distancing. Far from prohibiting these gatherings, the State actively encouraged them. This is as clear an example of a departure from the principle of neutrality as it possible to imagine.
The complaint made a number of other compelling arguments, and the Supreme Court shot the case back without comment, except from the lefty justices.
The New Jersey case is also striking because the complaints included capacity limits and compulsory masks.
In addition to giving the religious leaders, Rabbi Yisrael Knopfler and Father Kevin Robinson, relief from Murphy’s 25% occupancy limitation, the order vacated the state’s previous attempts to enforce its mask mandate.
The two men in their brief protested against the mask mandate as one of their central grievances, arguing that it was another manifestation of the alleged unequal treatment leveled against houses of worship. Referencing New Jersey’s rules for people dining in restaurants, which allow customers to convene without masks for an unlimited time, Knopfler and Robinson argued that churchgoers should be allowed to do the same.
“Worshippers cannot sit in pews — facing in the same direction and separated by six feet from each other — for even one hour, once a week, without the mandated face covering,” attorneys for the two wrote. “They [are allowed to] partake of Holy Communion or ‘the Kiddush cup’ only ‘momentarily’ without the state-imposed mask, but diners can tuck into multicourse dinners and imbibe wine for as long as they please while maskless. In what world is this disparate treatment of religion versus dining constitutionally permissible?”
It’s a striking move carving out new territory in reclaiming religious freedom.