Back in April, as the coronavirus was tightening its grip on the nation, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy uttered one of the most mind-blowing statements a U.S. politician could offer.
Asked by Tucker Carlson of Fox News what authority he had to restrict religious services, Murphy responded, “I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this.” Apparently many other liberal governors, like California’s Gavin Newsom and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, didn’t either.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, is thinking about Americans’ right to worship, having backed many of the cases opposing lockdown policies imposed on religious services.
And now, so is Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott.
On Dec. 18. Scott introduced a resolution designed to protect religious freedom, even during the pandemic.
Fifteen GOP senators joined Scott, including fellow Floridian Marco Rubio as well as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
In the resolution, Scott noted that “despite the clear prohibition against laws infringing upon the free exercise of religion, houses of worship and religious organizations have been frequent targets of asymmetric restrictions by State and local government officials during the coronavirus pandemic.”
“Irrespective of compliance with mask mandates, social distancing, and other protective measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, houses of worship and religious organizations have been subjected to size restrictions or outright bans on in-person gatherings which severely infringe upon the right of their members to freely exercise their religion,” the measure continues.
Scott then calls out Democratic governors for imposing such curbs on worship. In addition to Murphy, Cuomo, and Newsom, he knocks Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina and Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada for mandating “attendance caps” on churches while not applying such restrictions on commercial shopping centers, casinos, and amusement parks.
“For millions of people of the United States, churches, synagogues, and houses of worship are more than just buildings,” the resolution states, “and the ability to gather together in prayer for people of all faiths, creeds, and beliefs must not be diminished or impeded by the whims of government officials.”
Thus Scott called on the Senate to affirm its support for “the rights, liberties, and protections enshrined in the United States Constitution, and to commit “to vigorously defend the right of all people of the United States to engage in the free exercise of religion.”
In a statement, Sen. Scott observed, “Religious liberty is our first freedom, and there is no pandemic exception to the First Amendment. Unfortunately, liberal governors and mayors across the country have used their emergency powers as a sword to go after churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship, instead of a shield to protect the public health.”
“For months, he continued, “they have argued that these houses of worship should not meet and congregants could not sing, while they applaud massive political protests. That’s wrong. Today, my colleagues and I stand together against these misguided and hypocritical attempts to target religious institutions. We will always fight for the religious liberty of all Americans.”
North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven added in a statement, “Preventing the spread of COVID-19 is an important priority. However, the policies put in place have not been enforced consistently by certain states and localities with religious gatherings receiving the most stringent of responses while other gatherings have been permitted or faced fewer restrictions.”
“Our resolution makes clear that this does not align with our founding principles and seeks to recommit the Senate to protecting this essential right.”
Yet Scott’s push for unanimous consent was thwarted by New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who blocked the resolution on the grounds that Scott misled people on Gov. Murphy’s action. Scott, he complained, wrongfully said churches were not “essential” while pot shops and liquor stores could remain open. Menendez said Murphy did not use such language.
In a follow-up comment, Scott referred to the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overrule a lower court that had upheld capacity restrictions on New Jersey churches, in light of other decisions that hammered those limits in California and New York.
“It is absolutely shameful that Senator Menendez would not only lie about what is happening in his state, but also refuse to stand with houses of worship, who are entitled to the constitutional right to freely exercise their religion, by blocking my resolution,” said Scott.