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On November 25, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in favor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and two Orthodox Jewish synagogues and granted their requests to block enforcement of a New York executive order restricting attendance at houses of worship. Both the Roman Catholic diocese and the synagogues claimed that the executive order violated the right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment, particularly when certain secular businesses in the area are allowed to remain open. The decision could be considered moot since the restrictions had apparently expired. However, this decision seems to be a shift from earlier rulings and could have an impact on other state’s restrictions or future NY restrictions.

There were two basic issues to be decided: (1) Whether the provisions of Executive Order 202.68 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) that limit in-person “house of worship” attendance to 10 or 25 people, but allow numerous secular businesses to operate without any capacity restrictions, violate the free exercise clause; and (2) whether the courts below erred in concluding that

Jacobson v. Massachusetts


South Bay Pentecostal Church v. Newsom

require the application of a deferential, rational-basis review in all cases challenging government action taken in response to a public health emergency, even when fundamental rights such as free exercise are at stake.

“Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” said the Per Curiam opinion granting a stay of the state’s orders. “The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”

A copy of the opinion can be found in Course Content under the Week One Assignments folder, or you can use this link:


There are also two news videos referencing this case in the Week One Assignments folder.

There is no need to delve deeply into the legal analysis behind the decision, you need only familiarize yourself with the opinion’s bottom line and discuss the questions below.

Did the SCOTUS make policy decisions in this case? Explain your answer and also discuss whether you believe this was a display of judicial activism or judicial restraint.

What is your opinion on the Supreme Court’s role in making policy decisions? Are they justified in doing so?

No minimum word count is required, but my instructor thinks it would take at least 150-250 words to properly answer most questions. Any sources you use should be listed using APA format.

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