The U.S. Supreme Court’s new conservative majority voted 5 to 4 on Wednesday to bar restrictions on religious services in New York, which had been imposed by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo to limit the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the state.
Cuomo told reporters in a Thursday morning teleconference that the decision was a way for the new Supreme Court to “express its politics and philosophy.” The decision was praised by many faith leaders and conservatives.
“I think that the Supreme Court ruling on the religious gatherings is more illustrative of the Supreme Court than anything else,” Cuomo said following the decision. “It’s irrelevant from a practical impact because the zone that they were talking about has already been moved, it expired last week. I think this was really just an opportunity for the Court to express its philosophy and politics. It doesn’t have any practical effect.”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn cheered the ruling after the court sided with the diocese and two Orthodox Jewish synagogues.
“I am grateful by the decision of the Justices of the United States Supreme Court, who have recognized the clear First Amendment violation and urgent need for relief in this case,” said The Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn, in a statement.
“I have said from the beginning the restrictions imposed by Governor Cuomo were an overreach that did not take into account the size of our churches or the safety protocols that have kept parishioners safe,” he continued, later adding: “Our churches have not been the cause of any outbreaks. We have taken our legal battle this far because we should be considered essential, for what could be more essential than safely gathering in prayer in a time of pandemic.”
Agudath Israel of America mirrored this sentiment, stating in a celebratory post on their website that the decision will have a “nationwide legal impact on the status of religious freedom for years to come.”
“This is an historic victory,” said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel, “This landmark decision will ensure that religious practices and religious institutions will be protected from government edicts that do not treat religion with the respect demanded by the Constitution.”
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett is sworn in by Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas at the White House October 26 in Washington, D.C. Tasos Katopodis/Getty
Following the decision, the first decisive one for newly appointed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, others quickly took to social media to share their reactions, either with a great deal of respect for the decision – and contempt of Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent – or condemning the court for percieved disregard of health experts and public health.
An array of conservative politicians, including House Minority Whip Steve Scalise and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, celebrated the decision on Twitter. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Trump campaign adviser Boris Epshteyn, as well as the president’s fiercest supporters including chairman of the American Conservative Union Matt Schlapp, shared that the decision can be brought back to President Donald Trump‘s multiple conservative SCOTUS appointees.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted that the Supreme Court decision was a “major win” for religious Americans and slammed Cuomo and other Democrat elected officials for having “acted as totalitarians,” accusing them of using the COVID-19 outbreak as a way to suppress people’s right to worship. He also criticized Roberts’ decision to side with the three liberal Justices in dissenting.
A major win for any American who cherishes our religious liberty. Andrew Cuomo and Democrat elected officials have acted as totalitarians, using COVID19 to strip the people of NY of their fundamental right to worship. Today, the Court said enough is enoughhttps://t.co/xPG2oiXCB8
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) November 26, 2020
“Yet again Chief Justice Roberts willing to set aside his duty to enforce the Constitution when state or local leaders are hostile to religion under the guise of public health,” the Republican senator tweeted. “But thankfully, this time he and the liberal justices lost.”
He added: “As families celebrate #Thanksgiving today, they can also give thanks that they will be able to gather to pray during Christmas this year without fear of totalitarian Democrats who want to stop us from exercising our fundamental right to worship.”
Missouri GOP Senator Josh Hawley also celebrated the decision, echoing Cruz’s accusations of religious discrimination from Democrats.
“Big news from the Supreme Court late last night – Court strikes down NY Gov Cuomo’s discrimination against churches and synagogues,” Hawley tweeted on Thursday. “Justice Barrett the key to the majority.”
California Rep. Kevin McCarthy criticized Cuomo for his response to the pandemic and doubted the science behind the restrictions.
“Power-hungry Democrats like Cuomo have used the pandemic as an excuse to target people of faith with radical restrictions,” he tweeted. “It has no basis in science, and the Supreme Court agrees.”
Florida Rep. Anthony Sabatini thanked Trump for having “saved the Supreme Court” following Barrett’s appointment and slammed former President George W. Bush, a Republican, for appointing “liberal” Roberts as Chief Justice.
Meanwhile, several public health officials and others spoke out against the ruling. Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defence Fund, celebrated the four justices who voted against unsafe gatherings during a pandemic.
What a truly terrifying appalling decision. Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in this case, as in the prison case, & Justices Ginsburg & Kagan’s in the COVID voting cases, will be the written record of how 4 justices on the SCOTUS valiantly tried to save the nation from this pandemic. https://t.co/vbPn9z1ysZ
— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) November 26, 2020
“What a truly terrifying appalling decision,” Ifill tweeted. “Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in this case, as in the prison case, & Justices Ginsburg & Kagan’s in the COVID voting cases, will be the written record of how 4 justices on the SCOTUS valiantly tried to save the nation from this pandemic.”
Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, told CNN’s Boris Sanchez on Thursday that the ruling “devalues lives.”
“This is not about our religious freedom or civil liberties,” Hotez said. “This is about all hands on deck to save lives until we get everybody vaccinated. Human life is not cheap. That Supreme Court ruling devalues lives.”
Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called the decision a product of “bad logic” and noted that it’s a “really bad omen” for president-elect Joe Biden‘s policies, especially environmental ones.
“The first major decision from the Trump-packed court — and, naturally, it will kill people,” Krugman tweeted. “The bad logic is obvious. Suppose I adhere to a religion whose rituals include dumping neurotoxins into public reservoirs. Does the principle of religious freedom give me the right to do that?”
He added: “Freedom of belief, yes; the right to hurt other people in tangible ways — which large gatherings in a pandemic definitely do — no.”