November 2020 Church & State Magazine | AU Bulletin

A federal court last month refused to overturn an order issued by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) that limits the number of worshippers at indoor services and requires attendees to wear masks.

A priest and a rabbi challenged the order, asserting that it violated their religious freedom rights. U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi turned down their request for a preliminary injunction nullifying the order.

Cecchi found that the order treated religious and secular entities alike.

 “[T]he challenged measures are subject to rational basis review because they are generally applicable and neutral laws that burden secular and religious activity alike,” wrote Cecchi “The State’s policies are designed to combat the spread of COVID-19 in New Jersey given the current understanding of the virus which the Court finds is undoubtedly a legitimate governmental interest.”

Cecchi also rejected the religious leaders’ claim that the order amounted to government interference in religious practices.

“They … contend that ‘by mandating crude and medically useless face coverings,’ Defendants have made it difficult to say mass or teach the Jewish faith,” the judge wrote. “The Court finds that the indoor gatherings restrictions and mask requirements pass constitutional muster.”

Americans United filed a legal brief supporting the state’s position in the Robinson v. Murphy case.