In a 5-4 decision, the nation’s highest court said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and other officials cannot enforce occupancy limits set in a previous executive order.
Cuomo had mandated that attendance at religious services remain at 10 people or under in so-called red zones and at 25 or under in orange zones.
New York officials have created a color-coding system to mark what levels they believe the pandemic has affected certain areas.
Lawsuits brought by he Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America triggered the ruling.
“Stemming the spread of COVID-19 is unquestionably a compelling interest, but it is hard to see how the challenged regulations can be regarded as ‘narrowly tailored,’” the Supreme Court said in the unsigned majority opinion.
“They are far more restrictive than any COVID-related regulations that have previously come before the Court, much tighter than those adopted by many other jurisdictions hard-hit by the pandemic, and far more severe than has been shown to be required to prevent the spread of the virus at the applicants’ services.”
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus. Most patients recover, but a small percentage die.
The plaintiffs were likely to prevail on First Amendment ground, the court ruled.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Donald Trump appointee, said in a concurring opinion that the government “is not free to disregard the First Amendment in times of crisis.”
“At a minimum, that Amendment prohibits government officials from treating religious exercises worse than comparable secular activities, unless they are pursuing a compelling interest and using the least restrictive means available,” he added.