Accuracy in Media

On Thursday, the United States Supreme Court issued an injunction against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for First Amendment violations, saying his COVID-19 regulations were targeting religious institutions.

The regulations, which imposed capacity limits on churches and synagogues, were found by the court to have been treated differently than secular institutions in the same areas – in short, the “essential” commercial businesses were given different standards than those given to religious institutions, regardless of the size of the institutions in question.

Cuomo has been called out throughout the pandemic for blaming specific religious communities within New York City, Orthodox Jews in particular, for causing covid outbreaks. There is not evidence to suggest the outbreaks were triggered by religious communities.

But when the court came down with its ruling, rather than examining the case itself, several media outlets chose to point the finger at President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointees, particularly recent addition Amy Coney Barrett, who is Catholic.

New York Times writer Elizabeth Williamson jumped immediately to churches being “superspreaders.”

Her Times colleague, Paul Krugman, was not far behind, and – without evidence at all — suggested the decision would “kill people.”

And CNN called the court “scientifically illiterate.” All of these belie a fundamental misunderstanding – intentional or otherwise – of the actual basis of the case.

The regulations failed to take into account the size of institutions, limiting churches and synagogues that once held hundreds or even thousands of congregants to ten people. Or that the secular businesses, many of which had much smaller size constraints, had no such restrictions. Reporters are largely treating it as a question of whether it is safe to attend religious services rather than a question of whether Cuomo or any government official can choose winners and losers in the name of keeping people safe.

Cuomo did not have the same reaction to the ruling, however – well, sort of.

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