By Will Hall, Baptist Message executive editor
WASHINGTON (LBM) – Amy Coney Barrett, a native of New Orleans, joined her fellow Trump-appointed U.S. Supreme Court associate justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, to rule against New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, who had set a 10- and 25-person cap on attendance at houses of worship in COVID-19 hotspots according to the severity of the public outbreak as indicated by a color-coded map developed by his office.
The case, brought by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and the Orthodox Jewish group Agudath Israel of America, asserted that the governor’s restrictions violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and treated houses of worship more harshly than comparable secular facilities. The two religious organizations testified “without contradiction,” according to the 5-4 decision, that they have complied with all public health guidance, have implemented additional precautionary measures, and have operated at 25% or 33% capacity for months without a single outbreak.”
Agudath Israel also produced evidence that Cuomo had drawn the map intentionally to include the Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn without cause.
The decision was announced the night before Thanksgiving.
This was the first case in which Barrett, who replaced the deceased Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was a key player. Notably, when Ginsburg was still a member of the Court last summer, the justices had refused to hear similar cases. Importantly, Chief Justice John Roberts, a G.W. Bush appointee, sided with the three liberal associate justices in dissenting.
Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion that took aim at both Cuomo and Roberts (who has abandoned conservative justices in the past to side with liberals in some key decisions), according to Court observers.
“It is time — past time — to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques,” he concluded in agreeing with the majority.