The supreme court relaxed many restrictions that were placed on houses of worship in New York. The ruling that came on Wednesday night temporarily put restrictions on houses of worship in several regions that were badly hit by the covid-19 situation.
The conservative maturity of the court ruled that the earlier limits on churches and other houses of worship violate the first amendment’s Free Exercise clause. The earlier restriction did not allow more than 25 worshippers at one place at a time. The court believed that it is not a good idea to put aside the constitution even during a pandemic. The first amendment’s Guarantee of Religious Liberty gets severely affected with such restrictions in place, especially during the festive season.
The early action taken by the High Court was in response to the statewide restrictions imposed on organised religious activities during the covid-19 pandemic. However, the court did not lift the restrictions on churches in Nevada and California.
According to the new ruling, the churches and other places of worship can hold services at half of their capacity. This is a significant change in the recommendations made by the public health officials with regards to the covid-19 pandemic. The court also took note of the point that while liquor stores and other outlets are open to the public, it does not make any sense to close down churches and other places of worship.
According to health experts, the risk of virus transmission increases when more number of people are gathered at one place for a longer duration in an indoor environment. The nature of the pandemic calls for the quick action, and it must be taken based on the health and safety concerns of the public. However, the first amendment challenges that arise out of such actions should also be considered, and there should be a balance between them in the long run.
Several religious associations had challenged the restrictions imposed on New York houses of worship in October. They had alleged that the court had particularly targeted houses of worship while essential businesses were operating without any sort of restrictions across the country. The court has now considered this request and relaxed the restrictions temporarily on houses of worship in New York.
Some people argued that such restrictions were imposed at a time when New York was the national hub of the coronavirus. Given that situation, the state needed to close down communities which would become super-spreaders of the virus. In that situation, even concerts and other events were completely prohibited, and the shutting down of churches and other religious institutions were done in the same line of thought. However, as the situation is not so bad at the moment, the restrictions can be lifted to some extent, and this will give freedom for more worshippers to gather at churches and other houses of worship.
The court was also of the opinion that the relaxations are done only temporarily, and the restrictions can be imposed at any moment if there is a further spike in the number of cases. The responsibility is now on the religious institutions to practice social distancing as much as possible so that they do not become super-spreaders in future. In the same way, health experts also suggest that churches and other houses of worship should ask the worshippers to use face masks during public gatherings. In this way, they can significantly reduce the risk of infections by a huge margin.
Many public health experts are concerned that lifting such restrictions is not a good idea, especially during the festival season. As many people gather in such religious places during the Christmas season, it can lead to a huge spike in covid-19 cases if the public does not take proper precautions. Even if many people behave responsibly when they are in public and wear masks, some of them do not take the situation as seriously as they should, and this can lead to a lot of trouble for the entire community. Worshippers across New York City seem to be happy with the lifting of these restrictions as they can now freely gather at houses of worship during the festival season.
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