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Houses of worship excluded from NY COVID restrictions, per Supreme Court

Posted at 7:34 PM, Nov 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-26 19:34:42-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Many people of all religions are rejoicing this Thanksgiving over a United States Supreme Court decision directly affecting houses of worship.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that restrictions on houses of worship capacity, set forth by Governor Andrew Cuomo was unconstitutional.

“We are very happy,” said Bob Gugino, an Elder at Immanuel Lutheran Church in the City of Tonawanda. “I think the churches have learned from the many months of this how to wear masks, sanitize, social distance…we want to protect our people and our congregation.”

Gugino, who’s church is in a New York Orange Zone, no longer has to cap its capacity at 25 people. He says this specific restriction wasn’t as hard on his church than some others due to sizing, but had the area been in a red zone—with a cap of 10, the church couldn’t operate for in-person service.

“We may as well be shut down then,” he said.

Legal analyst Florina Altshiler says the harm of the restriction was the loss of first amendment freedom of religion.

“In order for a restriction to be constitutional, there’s two different options. The restriction should be neutral and have general applicability—like 25 people at any business—that would be neutral and generally applicable.”

Altshiler says houses of worship are different than other businesses because they have constitutional protections.

Governor Cuomo responded to this saying this is not a final ruling and will go back to a lower court. Cuomo also added that the court has a different makeup now, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett being the swing vote in this decision.