In their often bitter five to four decision – delivered from the safety of their own homes in the middle of an out of control national pandemic – the ultraconservative Justices ruled that New York may not impose a 10-person limit on attendance at houses of worship in COVID-19 hotspots.
The ruling is not merely controversial, under the circumstances it’s arguably homicidal.
And in an irony that many missed the court’s ruling was announced on the same day Pope Francis penned a New York Times op-ed pleading with Christians to stop what he called this “personal freedom” nonsense and follow sensible public health measures to protect themselves from infection.
Yesterday’s shocking court ruling now puts the five Justices to the right of the Pope, as it does New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who hailed it enthusiastically from his Twitter account.
— Cardinal Dolan (@CardinalDolan) November 26, 2020
But a few questions immediately arise. In their rush to cement an ultraconservative stand and grant special privileges to the religious, where was Dolan’s – or indeed the court’s – Christian concern for the vulnerable among us, who have the most to lose when COVID-19 is so easily transmissible?
The elderly, the poor, the immunocompromised will certainly not thank them when their less concerned relatives participate in large public gatherings that could quickly spell their end.
‘My church, my choice’ is a not a phrase we have heard before, but that’s essentially what the ruling comes down to. It has many implications for parishioners that the Cardinal may not have foreseen but now should.
What is pro-life about specious arguments privileging individual liberty, if it means the liberty to infect an entire cathedral of worshippers with an already out of control and deadly virus?
The pursuit of ‘religious freedom’ doesn’t stop at church assemblies in the middle of a pandemic, of course. Religious freedom may soon result in a doctor or nurse’s refusal to administer aid to you because your existence, faith or lack of faith, or sexual orientation religiously offends them.
Religious freedom may soon prevent you from successfully booking a hotel room because the staff decides you might use the opportunity to commit sin. Religious freedom might prevent LGBT students from joining or holding leadership positions in universities.
Religious freedom could cancel your wedding cake order and your wedding. Religious freedom may result in fitness tests that promote one candidate over another depending on their professed faith or lack of it.
Gay people already know because the HIV pandemic has taught them, about the limitations of religious freedom. Globally they have experienced discrimination when doctors and nurses refuse to treat them because they feel LGBT people are somehow odious in the sight of the God who made them.
Do you believe that kind of discrimination doesn’t – and won’t still – happen? I’ve had LGBT friends have nurses read them religious tracts unbidden when they arrived for a routine blood test, I’ve been told myself that they don’t hate me just my sin (I could only hear the word ‘hate’ being used, however).
It’s sad then to see Cardinal Dolan line up behind this ‘religious freedom’ fig leaf. It’s sad to see him get behind the creation of special privileges for the religious who will be able to make choices of assembly denied to the rest of us.
But I suspect his calls for religious freedom won’t include the right to freedom from religion, I suspect his religion won’t extend to the Muslim faith, and I expect his new enthusiasm for individual liberty won’t extend to a woman’s reproductive organs, reproductive choices or womb.
It is undeniable that the court’s most prominent conservatives are also its most ostentatious Christians. Now they and Cardinal Dolan – concerned about their reward in the next world for their works done in this – may have just helped speed up their fellow parishioners’ journey to meet their maker too.