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U.S. top court backs religious groups on virus rules

The U.S. Supreme Court late on Wednesday backed Christian and Jewish houses of worship challenging New York state’s latest restrictions in novel coronavirus hot spots.

The court on a 5-4 vote granted requests made by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and two Orthodox Jewish congregations.

The order marked one of the first consequential actions on the court of President Donald Trump’s new appointee, conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast a deciding vote in favour of the religious groups. Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts dissented along with the court’s three liberals.

An October 6 decision by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo shut down non-essential businesses in targeted areas where infections have spiked, including some Brooklyn neighborhoods. It limited gatherings at religious institutions to 10 people in some areas and 25 in others.

The houses of worship say that the limits violated religious freedoms protected by the U.S. Constitution, and that their facilities were singled out for stringent restrictions than essential businesses, such as food stores.

The court noted that: “Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”

The ruling continued: “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.”

A federal judge in Brooklyn rejected separate requests made by the religious groups on October 9. The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined emergency requests filed by both sets of challengers on Nov. 9.

In two previous cases this year, the court turned away similar requests by churches in Nevada and California. Those votes occurred before the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and saw her and her three liberal colleagues joined by Justice Roberts in the majority.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2021 5:54:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/us-top-court-backs-religious-groups-on-virus-rules/article33187281.ece

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