Supreme Court Votes to Block N.Y. from Enforcing COVID-Related Restrictions on Religious Gatherings

"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," reads the court decision

Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral
Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to side with New York places of worship against pandemic restrictions on religious gatherings as new cases of COVID-19 continue to spike across the country.

On Wednesday, the court — including newly appointed member Justice Amy Coney Barrett — made a decision on a case involving the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn claiming that public health restrictions put in place by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an executive order were too harsh.

The court decision calls the measures "very severe restrictions on attendance at religious services in areas classified as 'red' or 'orange' zones" and temporarily blocks the state from enforcing the rules in the outbreak hotspots. Dissenting votes came from Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. Lower courts had previously sided in favor of the health precautions.

"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," reads one part of the decision.

In a statement to CNN, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn supported the ruling, adding that the restrictions of attendance were a "clear First Amendment violation and urgent need for relief in this case."

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Due to the airborne transmission of COVID-19 and case spikes across the country, the CDC advises against indoor gatherings of large groups and recommends six feet of distance and face coverings at all times.

"Members of this Court are not public health 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," reads the decision.

Outgoing President Donald Trump — who has publicly feuded with Cuomo — showed support for the ruling on Twitter, retweeting a post about the decision and writing in all-caps: "HAPPY THANKSGIVING!"

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