The United States Supreme Court ruling temporarily blocking enforcement of New York Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order restricting attendance at houses of worship was an appropriate recognition of the primacy of the First Amendment.
SCOTUS Blog reports, “The Supreme Court […] granted requests from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and two Orthodox Jewish synagogues to block enforcement of a New York executive order restricting attendance at houses of worship. Both the diocese and the synagogues claimed that the executive order violated the right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment, particularly when secular businesses in the area are allowed to remain open[.] [The Catholic plaintiffs] told the Supreme Court that as a practical matter, the order ‘effectively bars in-person worship at affected churches – a ‘devastating’ and ‘spiritually harmful’ burden on the Catholic community.’ The synagogues followed on Nov. 16. They stressed that although they have complied with previous COVID-19 rules, the restrictions imposed by Cuomo’s order preclude them from conducting services for all of their congregants, and they argued that Cuomo’s order targeted Orthodox Jewish communities because other Orthodox Jews had not complied with the rules.”
Despite the fact that it was a five-to-four decision, the result was to be expected. What remains shocking is Governor Cuomo’s cavalier and disdainful attitude towards personal freedom in general.
Andrew Cuomo has come under intense scrutiny for the extremity of his restrictions, the fact that he imposed them without benefit of either legislative approval or a legally recognized authority to suspend basic freedoms, as well as the devastatingly bad results of his COVID strategy.
According to the New York Long Term Care Community Coalition 6,908 people died in nursing homes from COVID. This was primarily as a result of Cuomo’s bizarre and politically-motivated decision to place COVID patients in those facilities housing the most vulnerable New Yorkers. The governor cannot claim that this was due to hospital overcrowding, since he failed to take advantage of both the U.S.S. Comfort, a medical ship docked in NY Harbor and the Javits Convention Center facility. Both were set up by the Trump Administration to house non-COVID patients during the pandemic. Cuomo apparently believed that utilizing them would be a credit to the Trump White House, and decided to put his partisanship above the safety and health of his own constituents.
The governor also has failed to acknowledge the hysteria he helped create by claiming the state would run out of ventilators. As it turned out, the Trump Administration spearheaded a drive that produced enough ventilators to meet all American needs, and enough also to become the world’s major supplier.
Rather than learn from his tragic errors, Cuomo has doubled down on his authoritarian actions and has imposed a wholly new set of restrictions that may lead to equally terrible results. In anticipation of holiday travel, the Democrat governor declared (again, without benefit of legislation or a formally recognized authority) that travelers must obtain a COVID test within three days of departure from non-contiguous states. He apparently failed to think the concept through. The result has been massive lines at testing locations, where individuals have been left to stand, frequently for hours, close to others who may or may not have COVID, and may be waiting to be tested for reasons other than travel, including the belief that they have been exposed to the disease. The threat of widespread contamination from that process clearly exceeds the dangers resulting from travelling.
Cuomo’s lack of tolerance for due process and individual rights is matched by his overt partisanship.
He vowed to delay distribution of FDA-approved vaccines until his own committee reviewed, and stunningly called announcement of the inoculation’s availability “bad news,” because he didn’t want it to occur until Biden became president.
Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government.