Respect for the freedom to worship was placed on the backburner earlier this year by a number of Democratic state leaders in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Slowly but surely, however, that tide seems to be turning. According to The Hill, the Supreme Court issued rulings siding with houses of worship in two recent cases that challenged coronavirus-related restrictions in Colorado and New Jersey.
In both cases, the high court affirmed that religious gatherings can’t be discriminatorily targeted with harsher restrictions than are placed on other institutions.
The SCOTUS reportedly sent the cases back down to lower courts to reevaluate in light of a precedent set last month in a case out of New York. According to The Hill, “[t]hat case saw the [Supreme] court bar authorities from enforcing attendance restrictions at churches and synagogues.”
In the latest case out of New Jersey, both a church and a synagogue had sued and requested an injunction against capacity limits, as well as a mandate requiring congregants to wear face masks at all times, the Washington Examiner reported.
The two plaintiffs, Father Kevin Robinson and Rabbi Yisrael Knopfler, reportedly argued that similar mask mandates had not been imposed on restaurants in the state.
“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 plaintiffs wrote in a brief, according to the Examiner.
“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,” the attorneys added. “In what world is this disparate treatment of religion versus dining constitutionally permissible?”
According to the Examiner, the state of New Jersey countered that capacity restrictions and mask mandates are some of the only tools the state has to manage the pandemic and said that “profound” damage could be done if they were no longer able to enforce such measures. But the justices were apparently unconvinced.
In a one-paragraph unsigned order, the Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction against New Jersey’s restrictions and vacated a district court ruling upholding them, kicking the case back down to the circuit court with instructions to remand it further to be reconsidered in accordance with the new precedent set by the New York case.
Earlier that day, the Supreme Court sided with a church in Colorado that had similarly challenged state-imposed capacity restrictions that it said were not equally applied to secular gatherings, Fox News reported.
It may have seemed like all was lost for religious liberty earlier in the year, especially after challenges to restrictions in California and Nevada were rejected by the nation’s highest court. But with a new justice on the bench thanks to President Donald Trump, things finally seem to be looking up for liberty-minded worshippers.