NYJA Statement on Supreme Court Decision to Invalidate New York’s “Red Zone” COVID-19 Restrictions
November 26, 2020
The New York Jewish Agenda (NYJA) issued the following statement:
“The New York Jewish Agenda (NYJA) is deeply troubled that five Supreme Court justices decided to invalidate New York’s ‘red zone’ COVID-19 restrictions on the eve of Thanksgiving, just as tens of millions of Americans have drastically curtailed plans for the holiday to protect themselves and their loved ones from this deadly virus.
“By ruling in the name of ‘religious freedom,’ the court amplified the message that protecting religious practice necessitates endangering lives. NYJA and hundreds of other faith-based groups have repeatedly declared that the opposite is true. As we wrote in a statement signed by nearly 500 rabbis of all denominations, the Jewish value of ‘pikuach nefesh‘ teaches us that saving a human life must take precedence over other concerns. We have seen the vast majority of New York Jews, along with our neighbors of all faiths, put that value into action by taking precautionary measures that have saved thousands of lives.
“Furthermore, the Court’s decision was legally unnecessary and logically inaccurate. As Chief Justice Roberts noted in dissent, the decision was handed down at a moment when no red-zone restrictions are currently in place in the state of New York. And as Justice Sotomayor noted, the red-zone restrictions themselves, even if they had been in effect, actually privilege houses of worship over other spaces for seated gatherings, such as theaters and cinemas, which remain completely shut down in many jurisdictions. By comparing houses of worship to essential services and other businesses, the court mistook a data-driven effort to protect the health of the public for a Constitutional violation.
“Finally, this decision is a Pyrrhic victory for those who are celebrating it. Whatever protection the Supreme Court has offered to houses of worship in future red zones does not guard against the risk posed by COVID-19. NYJA calls on all faith leaders to commit to promoting the protection of human life as a preeminent value, and to continue taking all possible steps to reduce the size of indoor gatherings until a vaccine makes such gatherings truly safe again.
“On this Thanksgiving Day, the New York Jewish Agenda is thankful for all the faith communities that have chosen to forego litigation and focus on protecting themselves and their neighbors by taking the steps necessary to worship and celebrate safely.”