NEW YORK: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that a Supreme Court injunction to block the state's restrictions on church gatherings is political and has no practical effects.
Addressing the media on Thursday, Cuomo said that the case, brought by two religious groups, was moot because the zones in which the groups are located are no longer subject to those restrictions, reports Xinhua news agency.
The court's decision, made a few minutes before midnight on the night before Thanksgiving day as the justices voted 5-4, "is more illustrative of the Supreme Court than anything else", said Cuomo. "This was really just an opportunity for the court to express its philosophy and its politics. It doesn't have any practical effects." He went on to question why the court ruled "on an issue that is moot?"
In an unsigned majority opinion, the court said that the restrictions would violate religious freedom and are not neutral because they "single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment". The two religious groups that sued Cuomo over his October 6 executive order containing the restrictions, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Jewish synagogues in Brooklyn and Queens, said limiting the size of congregants violated the First Amendment's guarantee that church goers have the right to worship their Gods freely.
"The 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 unsigned majority decision said. "Even in a pandemic, the constitution cannot be put away and forgotten."
The state of New York has adopted a three-tier coloured strategy to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. For houses of worship within the area immediately surrounding the cluster, known as "red" zone, religious practices are limited to 10 people maximum.
Attendance of religious services in areas surrounding a "red" zone - known as an "orange" zone - must not exceed 25 people. And in a "yellow" zone that's outside an "orange" zone, churches should keep the number of the crowd under 50 percent of its capacity.
Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Jewish synagogues are in areas now designated "yellow" zones, meaning they are not subject to numerical restrictions. Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent cited this as the reason why the Supreme Court had no need to move on this case. Cuomo said the ruling was not final and the case now goes back to the lower court.
"I fully respect religion and if there's a time in life when we need it, the time is now. "But we want to make sure we keep people safe at the same time, and that's the balance we're trying to hit, especially in this holiday season," he added. (IANS)