November 30, 2020

In a preview of what may come next from the Supreme Court, a 5-4 decision overruled New York State's rules that are trying to protect its citizens from the coronavirus.

In the dissent Chief Justice John Roberts writes, "It is a significant matter to override determinations made by public health officials concerning what is necessary for public safety in the midst of a deadly pandemic."

To the rest of the conservative members of the court, religious gatherings override the health and safety of the state.

At issue is whether the occupancy caps on religious congregations were more severe than those of comparable activities. The plaintiffs contended that they faced stricter limits than businesses New York classified as essential, such as grocery stores, laundromats and auto mechanics.

The state argued that its rules already treated houses of worship more favorably than activities it considered comparable, such as lectures, concerts, cinemas and sporting events, which are completely shut in high-risk zones.


In his dissent, Chief Justice Roberts said the court’s action was premature, because the areas involved already had been reclassified as yellow zones, which were subject to a 50% occupancy limit without a numerical limit.

In other words, if a religious leader wants to gather 50% of people allowed in a house of worship to hold a religious service, they are suddenly exempt from health and safety guidelines. This is the Supreme Court's ruling during a massive second wave of COVID-19 infections around the entire country.

Science is clearly the second rate stepchild to religion in the eyes of the Supreme Court, when a governor trying to protect citizens from becoming infected — which leads to increased hospitalizations and deaths – is overruIed in favor of the clergy holding in-person services.

We know Republicans refute science on all sorts of issues, including climate change, but this is an unconscionable decision by the Supreme Court. Why is the right for them to gather in large groups, indoors, to hold a religious service more important than the rest of society's right to protection from COVID-19?

In theocracies this happens, but in democracies?

Religion is not being singled out, attacked, or shown negative bias by Gov. Cuomo's decision. Rather, it's simply being included in the fabric of the state. Are we to assume next that pastors holding huge Sunday services are now the arbiters of what should and should happen during a pandemic, and what's needed to protect the masses at large?

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