The Supreme Court Blessed Holiday COVID-19 Parties—Because Religion

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Commentary Law and Policy

The Supreme Court Blessed Holiday COVID-19 Parties—Because Religion

Caroline Reilly

The Court's orders siding with religious groups point to a broad consensus that the justices favor religious liberty over public health.

The Supreme Court got into the holiday spirit by protecting your God-given right to contract and spread a deadly virus at midnight mass—bless them.

The Court’s orders on Tuesday were brief. In just one page each, the conservative justices sided with religious groups in Colorado and New Jersey that sued over COVID-19 restrictions imposed in their states. The state public health orders restricted the number of people who could attend religious services and imposed a mask mandate in New Jersey. The groups that challenged these orders argued that the restrictions infringed on their religious liberty, because as we all know, central to the principle of separation of church and state is the ability to host superspreader events as a global pandemic kills millions of people.

The Court’s orders come more than two weeks after they handed down a similar order regarding COVID-19 restrictions in New York—pointing to a broad consensus that the Court favors religious liberty over public health.

The latest orders are notable for a few reasons. First, it happened on a Tuesday. Supreme Court decisions are typically handed down on Mondays and Fridays, but apparently this bench is so horny for God that they couldn’t wait another second to prove their allegiance to the big guy in the sky. I’m not being glib here. We are approximately six minutes into the new Supreme Court term with arguably the most conservative bench in recent history, and while we can’t glean much from the few orders already handed down, we can say for sure that this bench loves a good religious freedom argument.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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We could predict this to some extent, since the Court now boasts a membership that includes three Trump appointees. Neil Gorsuch is a longtime ally of the religious right, and I assume Brett Kavanaugh has a close possible relationship with his God because lord knows he has a lot to repent for (I’m not a religious woman, but I would assume being accused of gang rape isn’t the ticket to heaven!). We also know Amy Coney Barrett loves her some Jesus—she was a member of a religious group that once called its female adherents “handmaids” (they changed it to “woman leader” when The Handmaid’s Tale made a comeback a few years ago), so it’s hard to imagine a more worrying religious affiliation than that!

But lest you think this is strictly the fault of the most recent additions to the bench. Samuel Alito seems to be the horniest for God. In a speech last month to the Federalist Society, Alito said health and safety measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus run afoul of individual liberty protections and even went so far as to express concerns that such initiatives pose a threat to religious freedom.

Not only is this batshit, it’s also kind of … unusual that Alito would make such a public show of those beliefs. Supreme Court justices are largely considered apolitical figures, or expected to refrain from explicitly engaging in partisan politics even when they take their robes off. But in no conceivable way are judges apolitical—we have a clear partisan divide on the Court, and we always have (though it’s a wider gulf these days). But judges are at least supposed to adhere to some illusion of neutrality, which Alito clearly doesn’t give a damn about.

There is the obvious irony that these avowed “pro-life” judges are protecting actions that will actively endanger and kill people. But it’s not really that ironic when you consider that being “pro-life” is not—and has never been—about “life” but is about enabling a racist, classist, ableist, xenophobic practice of restricting who can and cannot become pregnant. Because I think it was Jesus who said “eugenics is good, actually,” right, Amy?

To be clear, the liberal judges pushed back on Tuesday’s orders.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissenting opinion in the Colorado case that essentially said: What are we even doing here, this whole case is moot because the state had already lifted the restrictions at issue! That’s right—the religious group and the majority opinion were just doing this to be super-duper God-fearing.

But with the Court’s new 6-3 conservative supermajority, a liberal consensus didn’t stand a chance, even with Chief Justice John Roberts on the bench. (Roberts has occasionally sided with the liberal wing of the Court but not enough for us to be fooled into thinking he’s a closet centrist.)

Tuesday’s orders are just a harbinger of what’s to come: more decisions and orders that prioritize the rights of religious people to impose their views on others, putting their well-being, their rights, and their lives at stake.

More immediately, it puts lives at risk. People will die all because a small number of religious folks don’t want to socially distance or wear masks. The Court could have upheld these provisions without infringing on religious liberty; after all no one is asking these congregants to stop practicing altogether or refrain from observing their holidays. They’re simply asking them to do so in a way that will make sure the grandparents you bring to mass with you don’t die a violent and painful death in the new year because you wanted to open your germ-filled mouth and sing hymns—sans mask—in a packed pew.

Instead the Court ruled as if communion wafers contained the vaccine and holy water the antibodies; as if the 11th Commandment was “thou shall not murder thy neighbor unless it involves doing so through aerosols that will later lead to needing a ventilator.” Alas, we can’t pray this one away.

So remember, if you attend mass this holiday season in a packed church without a mask to wish your fellow parishioners: Peace—and a deadly virus—be with you.

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