While the 5-4 order is welcome, it is disappointing that the ruling wasn’t 9-0. New York’s restrictions on religious worship are so overbroad, and so arbitrary, that their violation of the Free Exercise Clause should be an easy call. Americans have tolerated extraordinary restraints on their freedom in the pandemic, but it’s increasingly clear as we learn more about the virus that too many Governors have needlessly infringed on basic rights.
And too many judges have acquiesced. Americans should welcome the Supreme Court back at the ramparts as a defender of liberty.
The battle over lockdowns and public health is the struggle of our lives, the greatest crisis in generations. But the problems and solutions are not different from the ones that have consumed intellectuals for centuries. What institutions better manage society in good times and in bad: governments (run by experts, with power and resources) or free people acting with intelligence and creativity as best they can? One might have supposed we had the answer to this question already. But human beings forget. Then the tragic lessons have to be learned all over again.
Last week, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz banned “social gatherings” that include people from different households. “This prohibition includes indoor and outdoor gatherings, planned and spontaneous gatherings, and public and private gatherings,” he said. It applies to groups of any size, “even if social distancing can be maintained.”
Even The New York Times, usually a big fan of COVID-19 restrictions, was taken aback. Walz “took the extraordinary step of banning people from different households from meeting indoors or outdoors, even though evidence has consistently shown the outdoors to be relatively safe,” the paper reported.
“If people are going to meet up, doing so outdoors is probably the lowest-risk way to do it,” Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious disease modeler at the University of Toronto, told the Times. “Telling people they can’t spend time safely outdoors isn’t a rational approach. People are going to recognize that and push back.”