Professor Michael Helfand Quoted in "Do Cuomo's Coronavirus Shutdown Orders Trample the First Amendment? -- City and State New York
Professor Michael A. Helfand is quoted in the City & State New York article, "Do Cuomo's Coronavirus Shutdown Orders Trample the First Amendment?" The article considers lawsuits filed in New York by Agudath Israel of America and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn against new shutdown orders that place capacity limits on houses of worship in COVID-19 hot spots across Brooklyn, Queens, and Rockland counties.
Excerpt from "Do Cuomo's Coronavirus Shutdown Orders Trample the First Amendment?"
Michael Helfand, a professor and expert on religious liberty at Pepperdine University's Caruso School of Law, expressed doubt that the new lawsuits would succeed in blocking the orders, but said that the arguments were "non-frivolous" nonetheless. "Generally, in order to avoid constitutional scrutiny, you need to have laws that apply neutrally and across the board. And here, you have specific kinds of rules expressly for houses of worship," Helfand said. "So it's a non-frivolous suit for someone to say, 'You're creating a specific set of rules just for us, and that's, in principle, not what the First Amendment allows.'"
Helfand said that while the First Amendment says you can regulate houses of worship as long they're treated like other similarly situated institutions, it's a fraught task to figure out what it means to be a similarly situated institution. Richard Foltin, a religious freedom fellow with the Freedom Forum, a First Amendment-focused nonprofit organization, added, "There's a powerful constitutional imperative not to treat religious practice and religious communities, religious activities less favorably than comparable activities. The rub is in the question of what's a comparable activity."
The complete article may be found here