In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court of the United States blocked the state of New York’s restrictions on in-person attendance for religious gatherings. This was among the first major rulings which involved the newly-appointed Amy Coney Barrett, who sided with the Constitution on this matter in what is now a 6 to 3 conservative-majority Supreme Court.
The ruling seemed an obvious consequence of interpreting the first amendment of the Constitution, the first of a list of Bill of Rights that collectively act as the superordinate principles that govern the relationship between the U.S. government, state governments, and individual members of the population.
While it’s no surprise that the three “liberal” judges ruled as they did, it’s disappointing that a conservative judge, Chief Justice John Roberts, sided against the Constitution in this regard. Considering the value of the Constitution in American society, none of the judges should side against the Constitution in any case.
The text of the first amendment reads as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The law specifically precludes the U.S. government or the states from favoring one religious organization over another, and protects the right of the people to assemble peaceably. This is especially relevant to the Orthodox Jews who complained of the restrictions, and also claimed that they were specifically targeted. Recent restrictions on the number of people allowed in religious gatherings in light of the coronavirus epidemic limited religious gatherings to 25 attendees, or more recently, to ten.
As a personal observation, as I read the language of the first amendment, and see the common themes of the activities and parties mentioned, I get the idea that the government is not to be involved in ideological influencing of any kind towards the population. Protections for religious groups and the press carries a strong implication of this. If this is the case, this would mean that psy-ops historically conducted on U.S. citizens should be strictly illegal. Though, to be fair, private organizations go much further in this regard than institutions of the U.S. government. Anyone who cares to name some examples are free to do so in the comments below.
The Supreme Court pointed out that “even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here… strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”
As the BBC pointed out, the ruling won’t have an immediate impact, as the parties that filed the complaint are no longer under the restrictions that they contested.
Disturbingly, as the coronavirus lockdowns demonstrated, it is possible for state governors to enact orders that are in direct violation of the constitution, and for the unlawful orders to be carried out over the course of months, in which time the courts debate the legality of the orders. Yet, even once state governors are determined to have broken the law, the damage has already been done, including to the assets and enterprises of the people, and these governors face little to no personal consequence for their illegal orders, with the possible exception of Gretchen Whitmer, who may face impeachment for her defiance of a court order.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus restrictions, U.S. citizens have found out that state governors have the ability to cause substantial damage to their livelihoods, and face little consequence for their misuse of power, which in some cases is illegal.
The United States is widely regarded as a country of rebels. There is a reason for that, which has much to do with the fact that our founding fathers figured something out about government: that what makes a leader is a following, and that no one can govern an individual without the individual’s consent. Our proclamation of religious liberty was a direct challenge to a king who claimed that his position of authority was a matter of divine mandate. Today, the religious people of America are being challenged by a different sort of tyrant, the kind who possesses less power, authority, and consequence than a king. Our indignation towards them is unquestionably appropriate, as many of our state governors are loathsome individuals with no respect for the religions or faiths of the founders.
If you’re among the many Americans who, on this Thanksgiving day, are gathering together with family and friends in defiance of the will of certain debased governors, you are doing so with the true heart of an American. If these so-called governors have the hearts to understand it, maybe they’ll eventually figure it out.
But if someone doesn’t have the capacity to understand why a person would want to gather with family and friends, they’re truly unfit to lead.