Nov 26, 2020

Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s order tonight in two cases involving religious groups challenging New York’s public health order that limits large gatherings:

“The Supreme Court’s order misuses religious freedom and endangers the public health of everyone in New York. With coronavirus cases spiking across the country, we should be heeding the advice of public health experts who recommend limiting large gatherings. COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate between religious and secular gatherings; on numerous occasions, infections at houses of worship have led to major outbreaks in surrounding communities.

“The Constitution promises that religious freedom is a shield to protect us – not a sword that licenses harm to our communities. It’s shocking that the Supreme Court would ignore this fundamental principle, especially in the midst of a worsening pandemic, and reverse course from its own decisions earlier this year that rejected similar challenges to California and Nevada health orders.

“While the court’s order gives freer rein for larger religious gatherings to occur, that does not mean that they must or should occur. We urge houses of worship and religious organizations to consider the health and safety of the entire community and continue to follow the advice of health experts. We sympathize with the families and congregations yearning to come together to worship, celebrate holidays and find solace at the end of a challenging year. But limiting large gatherings now will help us get the pandemic under control and allow us to come together again – safely – that much sooner.”

Americans United, joined by 12 religious and interfaith groups, filed two amicus briefs with the court to explain that the Constitution does not prohibit New York from including houses of worship and religious services in temporary restrictions on large, in-person gatherings, and that it would be harmful to the public to exempt religious gatherings from New York’s order. The briefs were filed Nov. 16 in in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo and Nov. 17 in Agudath Israel of America v. Cuomo.

So far this year, Americans United has filed 40 other amicus briefs in courts across the country in similar cases involving requests for religious exemptions from COVID-19 public health orders.

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom. Learn more at www.au.org.