A Catholic priest and a rabbi filed an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday in a lawsuit against New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s (D) religious worship and mask restrictions to combat the Chinese coronavirus.
Rev. Kevin Robinson, a parish priest, and Rabbi Yisrael Knopfler, who leads an Orthodox Jewish synagogue, are suing Murphy and his administration “for discriminatory abuses of religious freedom in their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic,” announced the Thomas More Society, which represents the clerics.
“Government cannot set up rules that burden places of worship, or worship activities, that do not also pertain to other, comparable secular activities,” Thomas More Society special counsel Christopher Ferrara said in a statement. “That is the very crux of religious discrimination and a blatant abuse of the United States Constitution and its Amendments.”
The complaint asks whether New Jersey’s restrictions that limit houses of worship to 25 percent capacity at the same time less stringent restrictions are placed on secular activities violate the free exercise of religion and free speech and assembly.
Secondly, the complaint asks whether Murphy’s “mask mandate” also violates the right to free exercise of religion by permitting numerous exemptions to the mandate in secular venues but only “brief” removal of masks in religious settings.
The following indoor gatherings may continue under the current rules – limited to 25% of a room’s capacity, up to 150 people:
☑️Religious services/celebrations and political events
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) November 16, 2020
The complaint was filed two days before a viral video emerged in which New Jersey residents confronted Murphy for dining out with his family without wearing masks. As Breitbart News reported, the governor and his family attended a public dinner in the wake of further tightening of his coronavirus restrictions, including a warning for people in his state to keep their holiday gatherings “as small as possible.”
Citing the Thanksgiving holiday, one that commemorates the pilgrims who traveled to the New World seeking religious freedom, Ferrara said Murphy has no right to decide “worship is non-essential.”
“The founding fathers made specific provisions against it,” he said. “The irony is that today, 400 years later, we are having to beseech the highest court in the land to affirm those very same rights that America’s original refugees came here to find.”
Under Murphy’s mandates, Robinson’s and Knopfler’s congregations are prohibited from holding indoor worship services and engaging in religious instruction in the manner that represents their closely-held faith beliefs, the Thomas More Society states.
The lower district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit denied the clerics’ previous pleas.
“We are eight months into this pandemic and still, religious organizations are having to appeal to the courts for non-discriminatory treatment — something that is enshrined in our federal laws and in the constitutions of the states,” Ferrara added. “It is high time that all governors, especially Philip Murphy, be compelled to honor the guarantees of the United States Constitution.”