Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn appeals to Supreme Court over COVID-19 church closures

Northeast

NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn is taking New York state to the Supreme Court.

The Diocese says COVID-19-related restrictions contained in an executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) go too far — unfairly targeting religious institutions.

The filing says the order limiting attendance at churches to 10 people or less in the state’s highest-risk areas, “ … expressly singles out ‘houses of worship’ by that name for adverse treatment relative to secular businesses, and does so in a way that is not narrowly tailored to any compelling government interest, in direct violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.”

“And quite honestly,” John Quaglione, a spokesman for the Diocese, told NewsNation, “we feel that it is a direct attack on our ability to worship- and this is the United States of America. That’s in the 1st Amendment, and it’s in the 14th Amendment- that we have a right to worship freely.”

A similar filing has been rejected by two lower courts and once on appeal, but there’s reason to believe the odds of success might be greater at a higher level.

The Supreme Court has rejected similar challenges by religious groups twice this year, by narrow 5-4 margins, but hasn’t heard a case of this nature since the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who’s expected to shift the bench to the right.

It’s an unusual battle of church versus state that heads to the nation’s highest court just as COVID-19 cases hit new highs across the country. 

As New York weighs whether to close public schools, some local officials are said to be expressing fear privately that this legal challenge may reflect poorly on the church. The Diocese says it’s been taking rigorous health and safety precautions since the pandemic began and believes its services have produced no COVID-19 cases.

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The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights insists that despite the rising infection rate, the state of New York is being unreasonably strict and somewhat capricious; cracking down on religious institutions while allowing retailers greater freedom.

“If there are any legitimate concerns,” said spokesman Mike McDonald. “Instead of trying to address those, Cuomo’s just coming in, very heavy-handed, and saying your services have to cease and desist; ‘I’ll give you 10 people at a time.’”

The Governor’s office has not yet commented publicly on the Supreme Court filing. The court says its legal response is due by 2 p.m. Wednesday.

NewsNation Anchor Rudabeh Shahbazi talked with Monsignor Charles Pope of Holy Comforter — St. Cyprian Catholic Church, who says the coronavirus lockdowns carry too high of a human cost.

Watch the full discussion in the player above.

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