Professor Michael Helfand Comments on Supreme Court Decision Regarding COVID Restrictions on Houses of Worship
Professor Michael A. Helfand has published an opinion piece in JTA News regarding the Supreme Court's decision in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo and Agudath Israel of America v. Cuomo that granted emergency relief from COVID restrictions on houses of worship based on religious liberty claims. Professor Helfand is also quoted in several articles on the Supreme Court case as well as the California religious liberty case, Yavneh Academy v. Gavin Newsom, regarding how states have addressed the pandemic.
Professor Helfand's opinion piece, "What does the Supreme Court decision actually change for synagogues in COVID hot spots? It's complicated," published in JTA News (Dec. 2, 2020), considers how New York's rules treated houses of worship compared to other types of nonreligious conduct.
Excerpt from "What does the Supreme Court decision actually change for synagogues in COVID hot spots?"
The court was careful to strike down only the most severe elements of New York's restrictions, and its logic demanded this sort of distinction. It was because New York could still impose capacity restrictions on houses of worship — tying attendance limitations to the size of the church or synagogue — that the state's insistence on also imposing attendance maximums were unconstitutional. Put differently, New York's limits violated the First Amendment, in part, because there were less restrictive alternatives that could also effectively meet the demands of public health.
The complete article may be found here
In addition, Professor Helfand is quoted in the recent articles:
- "The Pandemic Is Making Visible How Important Religious Liberty Is to Orthodox Jews in America," JTA News (Dec. 2, 2020), which may be found here:
"Religious liberty has come into conflict with other social values that has raised very serious questions about how society and courts are intended to balance the claims of different groups," said Michael Helfand, associate dean for faculty and research at Pepperdine University's Caruso School of Law, who noted that several new Orthodox organizations have formed to work on religious freedom issues in recent years. "It pulls religious liberty into the culture wars and as a result, everyone has gotten louder."
- "New Justice in Town," Mishpacha (Dec. 2, 2020), which may be found here
The ruling broke ground for three reasons, says Michael Helfand, a law professor and associate dean at Pepperdine University's Caruso School of Law and a visiting professor at Yale Law School.
- The ruling's emergency injunction stops an order that had already expired.
- It comes just a few weeks before a lower court is scheduled to hear the case.
- Six of the nine justices wrote opinions, unusually verbose for an injunction.
"There is far more ink spilled on this one this usual," Helfand says, speculating that there is an undercurrent building up in the court on this issue. "One gets the feeling that everyone's views on the topic kind of erupted, given the new lineup on the court."
- "Religious Schools Find a Way Forward During the Pandemic—by Coming Together," Tablet
Magazine (Dec. 2, 2020), which may be found here:
"It's ironic that it happened through litigation," said Professor Michael Helfand. "It's almost as if we were having a conversation while drafting briefs. We said what our issue was. The state gave us options."
- "Taking Stock of a High Court Win," Hamodia (Dec. 6, 2020), which may be found here:
Michael (Avi) Helfand, a professor at Pepperdine University's School of Law, with an expertise in religious liberty, who co-authored a support brief in the case on behalf of a California Jewish Day School, said that the ruling was "surprisingly broad," given that it was a response to an injunction request, but saw its impacts as limited to future pandemic litigation.
"The court comes very close to saying that houses of worship have to be treated as an essential institution," he said. "It took into account how other states were able to successfully address the pandemic by making narrower restrictions and held New York accountable for not doing so."