On April 14, 2020, U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued a statement emphasizing the need to respect religious liberty in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic.
In his statement, the Attorney General noted that both the Constitution and federal law ban discrimination on the basis of religion. He said:
…Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity. For example, if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places of assembly to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings. Religious institutions must not be singled out for special burdens.
Furthermore, the Justice Department recently filed legal papers supporting a church in Mississippi whose congregants were fined $500 per person for attending a parking lot church service. Attorney General Barr objected, arguing that the city could not ban parking lot church services while allowing drive-in restaurants to remain open.
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms appreciates Attorney General Barr’s steadfast support for religious freedom. We call upon the State of New York and its municipalities to respond to the epidemic in ways that are consistent with the Constitution.