Why It Matters When New York's Governor Spits on SCOTUS's Defense of Religious Freedom
During the COVID-19 epidemic, Gov. Cuomo of New York and other governors have tried to shut down or limit attendance at America's churches. Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that Cuomo's COVID response, which limited church attendance to as few as ten or lower, violates the constitutional right to freedom of religion. It may be that the ruling has broad applicability to religious services throughout New York, as well as to those in California and all other states.
Gov. Cuomo's response to the Court's ruling was telling: he dismissed the judicial opinion because the situation on the ground had changed since the case was filed on Oct. 6, and he vowed to continue his restriction of church services at locations other than those mentioned in the Court's ruling. "I think this was really just an opportunity for the court to express its philosophy and politics," Cuomo stated.
Religious liberty is at the heart of our national identity. For a top liberal opinion-maker to say defending it is just "politics" is horrifying.
Sadly, in another display of judicial impotence, Chief Justice John Roberts dissented from the 5-4 ruling. He wrote that since conditions had changed, the Court should avoid addressing "a serious and difficult question." Bizarrely, he justified inaction based on the fact that it is "a significant matter to override determinations made by public health officials." Isn't the Supreme Court designed specifically to decide "serious and difficult" questions? Doesn't the Supreme Court of the United States have the authority to override the determinations of New York state health officials? If it lacks that authority, it has no authority at all.
Defending Cuomo, and Chief Justice Roberts, the N.Y. Times wrote that the dispute involved "tensions ... over what secular officials consider to be an important service at a time of crisis." This "hands off" language echoes Cuomo's defense of his actions while refusing to endorse the Court's ruling. The Times seemed to say that maybe everything in the Constitution is just politics, and maybe we should just sit back and allow "state health officials" to trash our freedoms.
It's significant that so many in the liberal press failed to reveal the official name of the recent Court ruling: Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo. That pointed phrase made it clear what's at stake. The liberal state is against Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and all who seek to practice their faith. And Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo is not just saying Cuomo erred in going too far; it says he erred by placing any restriction on the size of religious services.
Overlooked in some reporting is Cuomo's determination to continue with the restrictions at other locations not specifically mentioned in the Court ruling and to continue with bans of more than ten at private residences as well — thus trampling on the Fourth Amendment as well as the First. The Fourth Amendment reads, in part: "The right of the people to be secure in their ... houses ... shall not be violated[.]" Do liberal governors really believe they can arrest people for having ten friends and family members over for a Christmas party?
Cuomo likes to play "tough guy," and he seems particularly intransigent on the issue of religious freedom. Those who defend him, like the ACLU, are especially eager to condemn this particular Court ruling. Why is that?
Only by understanding the nature of liberal bias can one begin to understand liberals' actions and goals. When liberals speak of "separation of church and state" — the false basis of their thinking about religious liberty — what they actually mean is the suppression of churches. Liberals have been conducting a war against Christianity for over 200 years — certainly since Voltaire's Candide (1759) and the time of rationalists like William Godwin and Jeremy Bentham — and their goal is not a polite "separation" of religion from schools and courthouses. It is the elimination of religious expression everywhere.
This goal is particularly obvious as we enter Advent and approach the celebration of Christ's birth. It is not surprising during one of the holiest times of the year that liberals should be especially active in their attempts at suppression. It's not just the prohibition of religious symbols at public schools, as troubling as these prohibitions are. It's the attempt to suppress all idealism and faith in life and to replace them with cynicism and rationalism. That materialist ethos is, after all, the liberal alternative to religious faith.
One of the keys to understanding the liberal mind is to recognize that liberals, often atheists but also those attending universalist churches, assume that other faiths are inferior to their own. No true religion can worship the State in the way that liberals do. What liberals offer is a false faith that competes with Christianity and other true religions.
The liberal mind seeks finality because it cannot deal with the vexing uncertainty of life itself. Better to be equal regardless of merit than for some to stand out; better for the State to rule supreme than for individuals to have to compete in a messy capitalist marketplace. Most importantly, better to settle things — to get over the agonizing insecurity of living even if it means living within a gray, hopeless world.
Life is troubling for Christians just as it is for liberal atheists, but Christians have recourse to God's love and forgiveness and to the promise of life everlasting. Religious faith transforms life to joy and purpose, and it allows us to see the goodness of life beyond the materialist debate over equality and social justice.
Liberals do not believe that every child is born with hope and promise, or that Sunday should be a day of rest, or that biblical values are important. Instead, they believe in control, planning, and efficiency — all of which are on display in the liberal response to the virus.
Those liberal values, codified in William Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), constitute a liberal "faith" that competes with traditional religious faiths. To paraphrase Godwin, (1) the purpose of life is maximum human happiness; (2) one should devote oneself to the "general advantage" of all, not just to oneself or one's own country; (3) one's feelings must be controlled by one's reason; (4) reason is improved by education, while it is harmed by traditional institutions such as the Church; and (5) one must avoid inherited prejudices and must seek universal equality.
Liberalism has evolved since Godwin's time, becoming more institutionalized, more restrictive, and more ever-present. The response of Cuomo and other liberals to COVID-19, especially as it affects religious freedom, is a good example of the way in which Godwin's principles have been codified and enforced. Liberalism has become increasingly dogmatic and authoritarian, even to thinking our constitutional guarantees are just "politics."
It is frightening to hear politicians like Cuomo object to the Court's defense of freedom because the next stage is a brave new world of censorship, suppression, and state power that takes us beyond the whining of liberal governors. For those who refuse to give up their freedoms, harsher penalties may lie ahead.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).