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Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, et al. v. Cuomo


Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, et al. v. Cuomo (U.S. Supreme Court, November 25, 2020): The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) prohibiting New York from enforcing an Executive Order restricting the number of people permitted at religious entities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The State designates community areas as yellow, orange, and red based on infection rates. Houses of worship may host only 10 attendees in red zones; up to 25 in orange; and 50% capacity in yellow. Comparable secular facilities, like theaters or concerts, are treated similarly as religious entities, if not restricted further. Different standards apply, however, to essential businesses based on epidemiologic data demonstrating lower risks of spread. The Catholic Diocese and a Jewish congregation challenged the Executive Order. Subsequently, the State changed the color code in the relevant areas to yellow, permitting larger congregations. Still, a sharply divided Court (5-4) issued the TRO, finding the case was not moot (i.e., capable of repetition) and that Governor Cuomo’s Order was unconstitutional. Strictly scrutinizing the order, the majority Opinion concluded, “[t]he restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.” The case was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings. Read the full decision here. 

View all cases in the Judicial Trends in Public Health – December 1, 2020.