New Jersey Faces Lawsuit From Religious Leaders Over Coronavirus Restrictions

( A joint effort from a Catholic priest and an Orthodox Jewish rabbi in New Jersey is appealing to the Supreme Court over a lawsuit regarding religious liberty. The suit is challenging coronavirus restrictions in New Jersey.

The religious leaders are saying the state’s imposed cap on in-person religious gatherings is lower than that on other events that are not religious in nature. The mask mandate the state has imposed also doesn’t provide enough exemptions for these religious gatherings.

The leaders have said that religious gatherings “are still being treated unequally relative to numerous comparable secular activities.”

The pair consists of Kevin Robinson, a Catholic priest, as well as Yisrael Knopfler, a Rabbi and the leader of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue. They have sent an application to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who in a speech earlier this month signaled that he has sympathy for religious challenges to COVID-19 restrictions around the country.

Their application is asking the Supreme Court to allow religious gatherings to operate temporarily at the same capacity as other essential businesses in the state.

Christopher Ferrara, a special counsel who’s representing the two religious leaders, said:

“Government cannot set up rules that burden places of worship, or worship activities, that do not also pertain to other, comparable secular activities. That is the very crux of religious discrimination and a blatant abuse of the United States Constitution and its Amendments.”

The appeal is specifically concerned with New Jersey’s mandate that in-person religious attendance is limited to 25% capacity. Under the same orders, some essential businesses are allowed to maintain 100% capacity, which includes schools. Others, including liquor stores and grocery stores, can maintain 50% capacity.

The two religious leaders are asking through their application that religious institutions be treated like essential businesses. As Ferrara said:

“We are eight months in to this pandemic and still, religious organizations are having to appeal to the courts for non-discriminatory treatment — something that is enshrined in our federal laws and in the constitutions of the states.”

States around the country are beginning to re-impose restrictions on life as the coronavirus is spreading consistently again. New Jersey is one these states, and it has been fighting legal challenges from religious institutions from almost the get-go of the pandemic.

Other states such as California have been fighting legal challenges as well. Some churches in that state are trying to have restrictions on in-person indoor worship removed.

Similar efforts are going on in New York as well. Jewish groups have asked the Supreme Court to act against the coronavirus restrictions implemented by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. The groups say Cuomo targeted Orthodox Jews after “the governor explained that he was enacting new restrictions on places of worship, in certain neighborhoods that contain many Orthodox Jews, because he believed that this religious minority is to blame for a recent increase in COVID-19 infection rates.”

Cuomo even attacked the Orthodox Jewish communities for holding a secret wedding in Brooklyn at which thousands of unmasked guests were present.