The U.S. Supreme Court granted an exemption this week to allow Californians to worship in private homes, a decision that Vox depicted as signing death warrants for anyone who chooses to participate.
“The Supreme Court is serious about exempting religious conservatives from the law — even when their rulings could kill people.” Vox wrote.
Vox blamed the 5-4 decision in Tandon v. Newsom on the court’s newest justice, Amy Coney Barrett. According to Vox, she has been “rapidly dismantling” Employment Division v. Smith, which holds that “religious objectors must follow ‘neutral law[s] of general applicability’” – meaning that laws apply equally to everyone, and those with religious objections cannot request an exemption.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh addressed that issue in the Newsom ruling, saying that “government regulations are not neutral and generally applicable, and therefore trigger strict scrutiny under the Free Exercise Clause, whenever they treat any comparable secular activity more favorably than religious exercise.”
Vox’s takeaway, however, is that the “Court is serious about giving religious conservatives broad immunity from the law — so serious, in fact, that it is literally willing to endanger people’s lives in order to achieve this goal.”
Vox did not address whether supporting data exists to show that reopening churches has caused a spike in deaths from COVID-19 as a direct consequence.
While the CDC has not issued specific data, some numbers exist from states that have handled church reopenings differently. According to the New York Times, New York, which has required places of worship to remain closed, has had a total of 50,693 deaths. Florida, by comparison, has allowed places of worship to remain open, and recently resumed full capacity. The state has had 34,119 deaths.
Those states also have many other factors, but CDC guidance does not outright recommend the closure of places of worship, or worship services being held in private homes. Nor have they provided any data to suggest that there have been higher rates in areas that have resumed worship services.