Cuomo smackdown: Supreme Court rules to temporarily bar NY from enforcing attendance limits in places of worship

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NEW YORK- On November 25th, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to temporarily bar New York from enforcing strict attendance limits on places of worship in areas that have been designated as coronavirus “hot spots”.

According to reports, the court ruled that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order violated the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause and actively discriminated against religious institutions.

The groups sued to challenge attendance limits at houses of worship in areas designated red and orange zones, where New York had already capped attendance at ten and 25 people. However, the groups are now subject to less-restrictive rules because they’re not in areas that have been designated as yellow zones.

The justices split five-four to bar the state from enforcing the restrictions against the groups, for now, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the majority. The court’s three liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts dissented. The unsigned majority decision read, in part:

“Members of this Court are not public heath experts and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But, even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”

It added:

“The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”

The justices acted on an emergency basis while lawsuits challenging the restrictions continued. In the unsigned order, a majority of the court said the restrictions “single out” houses of worship for especially “harsh treatment.”

The court’s recent ruling is in contrast to two decisions it issued back in May and June concerning churches in California and Nevada, which allowed state officials to restrict attendance at religious services.

With Barrett’s liberal predecessor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the court, the justices were divided five-four to leave in place pandemic-related capacity restrictions affecting churches in California and Nevada.

The opinion also noted that in red zones, while a synagogue or church cannot admit more than ten people, businesses deemed “essential” from grocery stores to pet shops can remain open without capacity limits.

In orange zones, while synagogues and churches are capped at 25 people, even “non-essential businesses” may decide for themselves how many persons to admit. In his dissent, Roberts wrote:

“There was simply no need for the courts action. None of the houses of worship identified in the applications is now subject to any fixed numerical restrictions.”

He added that New York’s ten and 25 person caps do seem “unduly restrictive.”

He wrote:

“The Governor might reinstate the restrictions, but he also might not and 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.”

The court’s action was a victory for the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues that had sued to challenge state restrictions announced by Cuomo on October 6th. Randy Mastro, an attorney for the Diocese of Brooklyn said in a statement:

“We are extremely grateful that the Supreme Court has acted so swiftly and decisively to protect one of our most fundamental constitutional rights, the free exercise of religion.”

In an email, Avi Schick, an attorney for Agudath Israel of America, wrote:

“This is an historic victory. 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.”

It is still unclear how the case will proceed. However, New York’s Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood recently informed the court that recent changes to the policies in question meant none of the diocese’s churches or the area’s synagogues would any longer be subject to the restrictions.

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Welcome to California, where strip clubs can be open while churches cannot hold indoor services

November 15th, 2020

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, CA – Some “free speech” apparently matters more than others.

At least that’s the object lesson in a recent ruling by a judge in San Diego County, who helped two strip clubs stay open even as the state of California continues to keep indoor church services limited or prohibited.

San Diego Superior Court judge Joel R. Wohlfeil granted a temporary injunction that prevented government entities or law enforcement officers from enforcing cease-and-desist orders that San Diego filed against two local strip clubs, Pacers Showgirls International and Cheetahs Gentlemen’s Club.

In October 2020, both clubs received a cease-and-desist order from Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego’s public health officer, for “conducting live entertainment in violation of the Order of the State Health officer and the County Order of the Health Officer and Emergency Regulations.”

Continued violation would potentially result in a fine or closure.

In response, both clubs filed a lawsuit against the county of San Diego.

The club owners argued that their live entertainment was “constitutionally protected speech” and that “Dr. Wooten’s directives are vague, arbitrary, and have violated Plaintiff’s equal protection and due process rights.”

The two plaintiffs also asserted that there were no specific public health directives against “licensed adult entertainers engaging in protected 1st Amendment performances.”

A final hearing will be held at the end of November, but in the meantime, the judge’s ruling allows the strip clubs to be open for business, even as churches throughout California continue to find themselves under significant restrictions.

California presently has a system of color-coding counties with various levels of restriction, called “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.” 

Counties are assigned a color and “Tier” based on the number of positive cases and a how a county addresses “disparities in levels of COVID-19 transmission.”  The categorization is updated weekly.

San Diego County, located at California’s southern border, has purple or Tier 1 status, reflecting “widespread” COVID cases and requiring closure of many “nonessential” indoor businesses.

For example, bars and live audience sports are closed.  Gyms, movie theaters, and zoos cannot operate unless outdoors.  Offices must have remote workers only.

Also under Tier 1, churches are not allowed to have indoor worship services at all.  Under Tier 2, the next stage, churches are restricted to 25% capacity indoors, or 100 people, whichever is fewer.  Under Tiers 3 and 4, churches are restricted to 50% capacity.

Although the strip clubs are evidently now allowed to be open even under Tier 1, and churches must be closed, or at least somehow find a way to hold outdoor services, some advocates for religious liberty do see the strip club case as a positive in the months-long struggle for churches to be able to hold their services.

Paul Jonna is special counsel for the Thomas More Society, which has been representing churches of various denominations in their quest to fight the restrictions.

Jonna told the Washington Free Beacon that if strip clubs merit constitutional protections, then so do churches.

He said:

“If you’re going to accept that argument that dancing nude is protected speech that’s so significant that it overcomes the government’s interest in regulating its citizens with COVID-19 orders, then obviously the divine worship of God, which is expressly mentioned in the First Amendment, should be held to a higher standard.”

Jonna added:

“A judge who understands the Constitution will recognize the absurdity of the current state of the law.”

He concluded:

“I think it’s a good sign that judges are starting to question whether the government has a legitimate interest in regulating any business or industry at this point.”

Here is one of our previous reports on California’s COVID restrictions:

SACRAMENTO, CA – Current California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom has listed new restrictions on how people can celebrate the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. 

To some, the new rules may seem like a needed safety measure.  To others, they are absurd and read more like orders from a king rather than suggestions from a government leader.

Newsom has decried that no more than three families can be together for the holiday, and even then, no one is allowed inside the houses.  Newsom also wants to ensure that the families socially distance and wear masks. All while trying to eat turkey.

You know, just your average family event.

In an even stranger restriction, Newsom has ruled that family gatherings shall not last longer than two hours.  Apparently signing is also strongly discouraged.  

Comedian Rob Schneider also does not seem to see much sense in Newsom’s declaration of his COVID restrictions. 

He tweeted:

“Dear Emperor @GavinNewsom.  During our allotted 3 family limit this Thanksgiving, if my Aunt comes over, can I throw her a slice of turkey from the window?  We promise NOT to sing…we will all just whisper, “PLEASE RECALL DIPSHIT GAVIN NEWSON!”

This was not Schneider’s first Twitter attack aimed at Newsom, as he was also unhappy that the state wineries in 19 different counties had been ordered closed due to COVID, except for the one that he and his family owns. 

At the time, Schneider tweeted:

“Enjoy @GavinNewsom 2020 Vintage Wine!  A Smokey ash flavored Cab with hints of incompetence & authoritarian overstepping.  Who needs science?  Just Lock yourself down & go bankrupt with this morally corrupt table wine with it’s bouquet of one man dictatorial rule & 16.8% tax.”

The absurd rules that Newsom is bringing forth is done underneath the veil of “loosening” current restrictions, so, you know, everyone should be thankful. 

He said:

“We are entering into the holidays, but also we’re entering into part of the year where things cool down and people are more likely to congregate back indoors in settings that put their physical proximity and likelihood of transmission and transmitting disease at higher risk.”

Newsom’s office also will allow people to gather underneath outside shelter provided that they social distance and the outdoor breeze is present.  He has also decried that no one will share food or drinks with one another. 

What’s more, besides wearing a mask to a Thanksgiving dinner and avoiding singing, chanting and shouting are also “strongly discouraged.”

Newsom’s office contends that singing, chanting or shouting can increase the chances of the spread of COVID-19 “because these activities increase the release of respiratory droplets and fine aerosols into the air.” 

Is this not from the same group of people that tell us that wearing a mask will prevent the disease from spreading? 

So, if you are wearing a mask AND signing, the mask does not work. Got it.

Playing music is also allowed, graciously, as long as it is not from any type of wind instruments.  You see, playing those instruments, even if standing six feet apart from someone who is wearing a mask, somehow can magically spread the virus through the air, through the mask, and beyond the six feet that they preach to us will keep us all safe.

It’s uncanny.

Newsom also faced mocking earlier in October when he expressed his desire for patrons of a restaurant to wear a mask in between bites of food. 

His office tweeted:

“Going out to eat with members of your household this weekend?  Don’t forget to keep your mask on in between bites.  Do your part to keep those around you healthy.”

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