One of the first consequential actions by the new Supreme Court remade by Donald Trump was to block COVID restrictions imposed on religious gatherings in New York by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court sided with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and two Orthodox Jewish congregations in the dead of night to enshrine religious rights above an individual’s health.
Chief Justice Roberts joined the three liberal justices on the court in dissent. The court’s newest member Justice Amy Coney Barrett casts the deciding vote to block COVID restrictions on religious gatherings in a coronavirus hotspot.
This ruling shows exactly why Republicans in Congress rushed to confirm Barrett before the election– an act they will gladly do again since the American people rewarded their blatant partisan hypocrisy by re-electing them to be the majority in the Senate, but I digress.
Prior to Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, conservatives were losing patience with Chief Justice John Roberts. Outgoing Vice-President Mike Pence called him a “disappointment to conservatives” after a number of decisive votes siding with liberals on the court on key issues like preserving DACA, Obamacare, and to strike down a very contentious Louisiana abortion law. He also came under attack from Republicans in Congress.
Republicans no longer have faith in the conservative Chief Justice.
That’s where Amy Coney Barrett comes in. Someone who is so far right, she will always be a reliable conservative vote thus canceling out Chief Justice Roberts’ vote when he goes ‘rogue’ in their view.
Make no mistake, Chief Justice Roberts is no liberal hero. But, he has demonstrated in the past his willingness to listen to both sides of an argument and render an unbiased judgement free from his own personal religious or political beliefs, SOMETIMES.
In these hyper-partisan times, such a trait is frowned upon even on the Supreme Court. A fact that was highlighted when Justice Clarence Thomas one of the more hyper-partisan conservative justices on the court administered the official Constitutional Oath to Barrett under darkness at the White House.
In this particular case, we see Barrett’s interpretation of the First Amendment colliding with her religious beliefs. There is no reason why places of worship should be given special privileges to remain open in a state where schools and businesses are asked to shut down to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Especially since scientific research shows temporary lock downs work.
But, this is inline with Barrett’s belief that religion deserves special treatment. It is a belief that misconstrues the Constitution and violates the Establishment Clause which among other things “prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.”
From the Washington Post:
Rather than suggesting that religious groups be treated equally, she seems to approve of religious groups receiving special privileges as compared with their secular counterparts.
Consider her only significant case on religion before her appointment to the Supreme Court.
In the early days of the pandemic, Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker limited gatherings to 50 people. Religious groups were allowed to congregate in larger groups but they were advised to practise social distancing. The Illinois GOP sued Pritzker saying that the order favors religion by subjecting core political speech to tighter restrictions than those placed on religious expression.
According to The Post, state Republican party asked the court to hold that religious and political speech has to be treated equally, so Republicans should be able to gather as well as long as they practice social distancing.
Barrett was part of a three judge panel that rejected the Republicans’ argument. Barrett and her colleagues argued that preferential treatment for religion is a constitutional norm under the First Amendment.
Barrett’s views on religion could be decisive in a number of religious freedom cases. And her vote here is an indicator of what’s to come. Prior to last night’s ruling, Chief Justice Roberts sided the other liberal justices on the court, twice to reject challenges brought before the court by religious groups against their state’s COVID restrictions.
Now, his vote is canceled out.
The court is set to hear major religious freedoms cases involving one where a religious adoption agency is refusing to place foster children in the homes of same-sex couples. According to The Washington Post, the adoption agency is argued that respecting religious liberty requires allowing it to receive public funding while refusing to place children with LGBTQ parents.
With Barrett on the court, her vote will be enough to give religious organisations, institutions, and individuals a privileged place in our society which is not what the constitution intended. These changes can take place with or without the support of Chief Justice John Roberts, which is what conservative intended.
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