Religious liberty

"Cops Break up 2 Large Weddings for Defying Coronavirus Rules"

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

NJ.com (Avalon Zoppo) reports:

Two weddings in Lakewood were broken up by police Tuesday night as state officials continued to warn against large gatherings amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Officers responded to the separate celebrations—one at Fountain Ballroom on Vassar Avenue and the other at Lake Terrace on Oak Street— around 8 p.m. and told venue staff that gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited, Lakewood Capt. Gregory Staffordsmith said. The workers and attendees then dispersed, he said….

The article later adds that, "The state rules will … greatly disrupt the large Orthodox community in Lakewood, where gatherings play a big part of everyday life and the religion, [Mayor Raymond] Coles said. Two-thirds of the township's 100,000 residents are Orthodox."

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  1. Fuhgeddaboutit.

  2. If it were a wedding of a politically favored group (LGBTQ, Muslim, Wiccan), the cops would not have dared to mess with it

    1. NoVaNick: Do you have any actual evidence for this conjecture?

      1. No, I do not. But, it does seem that the optics may not have been as favorable to the police. Also, I admit I sometimes post things here that just come into my head and may not necessarily be correct.

      2. People were throwing a fit today that Trump dared to utter the words ‘china virus’ so if they’re willing to do that when we’re not even very deep in this event it stands to reason that people will eventually allow their psychotic fixation with identity politics to overcome concern about surviving a viral pandemic.

        1. Have you considered that you’re the one with a psychotic fixation with identity politics?

      3. There is no shortage of a dual standard of enforcement in general, this has been going on in academia for a couple decades and has now come out into the larger society.

        1. Where have you lived for the last umpteen years. There was always a dual standard of enforcement–predicated on your monetary worth.

          1. Political platform, not monetary worth.

            1. Embrace the power of *and*.

  3. gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited

    … which # the bureaucrats @ City Hall pulled out of their collective nether region.

    1. Yet, they have not yet shut down domestic flights or public transit. Planes and subway cars can hold a lot more than 50 people.

      1. Yup, there’s that too.

        It’s a pretty naked power grab.

        1. Just so I’m following y’all’s insane circle-jerk, the fact that the governor of New Jersey didn’t “shut down domestic flights or public transit” is evidence of “a pretty naked power grab”?

      2. That actually is a good point — governmental regulations must be “content neutral” and I could make a case that a wedding was a whole lot more necessary than domestic air travel (as one could drive or not go).

        There are legal aspects of a wedding should one party die from the Wuhan Virus (i.e. inheritance, death benefits to spouse, etc) not to mention the religious aspects of pre-marital sex to those who hold such beliefs.

        So I’m not so sure the government is in the right here — the real question will be if funerals are banned.

    2. Governor’s office. Not City Hall.

  4. Compared to what some of the older attendees have already gone through . . .

  5. This does not interfere with their religious freedom. Indeed, saving life so highly valued in Judaism that it is permitted (and on the view of many, required) to break any commandment other than those against murder, idolatry, and adultery, in order to save a life. Observing restrictions on gatherings in order to prevent the spread of covid-19 is the Jewish thing to do.

    1. Bill…You have captured the essence of the commandment: Choose life.

      My Orthodox ‘cousins’ (I am a Conservative Jew) know this as well; I daven with them occasionally. Hopefully, incidents like this will not be repeated.

    2. That is your interpretation. Obviously these celebrants thought differently. The First Amendment prohibits the government from enforcing the correct interpretation of Judaism. (I’m not saying that the First Amendment protected these wedding gatherings, but your argument is a bad one.)

      1. “The First Amendment prohibits the government from enforcing the correct interpretation of Judaism.”

        But it doesn’t prevent private people from talking about it and making religious arguments. I didn’t sense that Bill Poser was demanding the government to adjudicate true Judaism. Rather he was professing a belief about the tents of Judaism. If you think he’s wrong about the tenets of Judaism, maybe you should counter with an argument based on the tenets of Judaism. Especially since you aren’t even willing to say that there is a 1A violation.

        What a strange comment. You end by telling him that his “argument is a bad one” even though you conceded on the front end that it was his “interpretation” of Judaism. What did you really mean?

        1. The argument: “A particular government restriction on your religious practice does not violate the First Amendment because it does not interfere with the requirements of your religion as properly understood” is illegitimate.

          1. Why do you think it is illegitimate? It might be improper for a court to resolve a religious dispute that way, but not for the rest of us. In fact, there are a lot of religious leaders weighing in with religious arguments about why their followers should adhere to COVID avoidance protocols. Do you think its illegitimate for religious leaders to discuss the requirements of their religions?

            1. There are religious leaders weighing in on what does or does not violate the First Amendment? They are not qualified to engage in that discussion.

              1. First, religious leaders are weighing in on the correct interpretation of their religion. Bill Poser was discussing (what he believes is) the correct interpretation of Judaism. You’re the one who keeps insisting his comment must have been about the 1A.

                Second, there are no qualifications for engaging in 1A discussions, besides having a brain. Religious leaders (like everybody else) are absolutely qualified to engage in discussion of what does or does not violate the 1A.

    3. Alas, you don’t get to decide what other people’s beliefs are, nor what they decide their religion and religious interpretations are.

      That’s basically rule 1.

      1. The code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.

    4. This is your view of what Judaism says in this situation, but you have no right to impose it on them. Nor does government have such a right.

      Of course it imposes on their religious freedom. However, a pandemic is a classic example of a compelling interest situation that justifies overriding liberties that could not be overridden under ordinary circumstances.

      When we impose on people, we should be honest about what we are doing and why. We may believe we are acting in their ultimate best interests and they are being ignorant. But we should not not try to pretend that they “really” agree with what we are forcing them to do based on our own interpretation of their professed beliefs.

      They not only get to believe what they want, they get to interpret and apply their beliefs their way, not yours.

      1. This is your view of what Judaism says in this situation,

        I think this idea is largely undisputed within Judaism.

        When we impose on people, we should be honest about what we are doing and why.

        I agree. And the cops in this case were not claiming to enforce religious orthodoxy, but rather state law.

        1. “I think this idea is largely undisputed within Judaism”

          Again, this really doesn’t matter. It matters what the beliefs of the person are. Not what the beliefs of the larger religion are perceived to be. This is a point that needs to be nailed in repeatedly. You CANNOT interpret religious beliefs for other people and tell them what their beliefs are, or how they should behave. It does not work that way. I can draw analogies to other areas, if needed.

          “And the cops in this case were not claiming to enforce religious orthodoxy, but rather state law.”

          Regardless if they are enforcing state law or not, you can STILL interfere with religious freedom. The argument that needs to be made here is that religious freedom isn’t an unbridled right. There are very selected state interests that can trump it. That’s the argument that needs to be made (and what would be made in this instance).

          1. “Regardless if they are enforcing state law or not, you can STILL interfere with religious freedom. The argument that needs to be made here is that religious freedom isn’t an unbridled right. There are very selected state interests that can trump it.”

            That isn’t the law. In New Jersey, laws of general applicability that incidentally interfere with religion don’t have to pass strict scrutiny, or require compelling state interests.

            1. “incidentally interfere with religion”…

              Shutting down ever mass, religious service, temple proceeding and every other religious event of more than 50 people is not “incidental”.

              I’m not saying there isn’t a compelling reason. There is. But is a major interference with religion that should need to pass strict scrutiny.

              1. Incidental means it’s not focused on a particular religion or religious practice, not that the burden is trivial.

          2. Armchair (and Reader Y)….I think your points are well-intentioned, but completely wrong.

            This is not about enforcing religious belief in the slightest. This is purely about behavior in public, completely unrelated to religious belief. The Governor has stated no crowds of 50 or more, no exceptions. We have a honest to God public health emergency. The directive (and enforcement) is completely viewpoint neutral.

            1. I don’t disagree with the fact we have a public health emergency. And that such actions to prevent the spread of the disease likely pass strict scrutiny. In this case, it is justified. In this particular case, under strict scrutiny.

              But the arguments being made that “Well I know what your religion is, and it says it’s OK if we do this” are entirely bogus. Mere “Viewpoint Neutrality” IS NOT ENOUGH for what is a major infringement on religious freedom or (for a non-religious standpoint) the major infringement on the right of people to peaceably assemble, as per the first amendment.

              1. This is not the current law.

              2. Armchair, I think once the immediate crises are past, that argument you are advancing can be made in a structured setting. What we have now is highly irregular, and does in fact violate our civil rights. I am not disputing that. While I do not like it, I like grave illness and death a lot less.

                Your original point was about religious freedom and observance.

                Alas, you don’t get to decide what other people’s beliefs are, nor what they decide their religion and religious interpretations are.

                My point was that religion was irrelevant. Governor Murphy has banned all gatherings of more than 50. And honestly, n=50 in one spot is 40 too many.

                1. And I think the argument you are making is exactly the argument that should be made. What is going on is a MASSIVE violation of our first amendment rights, both freedom of religion and the freedom to peaceably assemble. And it can ONLY be justified under strict scrutiny and an overwhelming government need in the public health crisis.

                  It cannot in any way be justified because “your religion doesn’t really believe that” or “it’s only a minor or incidental violation” or “it’s viewpoint neutral, so it’s OK”. This is a MAJOR, massive violation of our civil rights that can only be justified under strict scrutiny and overwhelming government need. Believing it can is a way to undermine our rights as a whole.

                  Let’s add onto this, something to keep in mind. You’ve effectively given President Trump the “right” to disband peaceable assemblies… Think about that. And what it might mean for other first amendment rights… This “power” of the government is something that needs to be kept a very close eye on.

                  1. I sense that you’re trying to make a normative argument. But what should be is not necessarily what the law is. Right now, the law is Employment Division v. Smith. Since New Jersey does not have an RFRA, there’s no strict scrutiny for laws of general applicability, like this one, even if they burden religion. As Justice Scalia noted in his opinion, which remains the law,

                    “It is a permissible reading of the [free exercise clause]…to say that if prohibiting the exercise of religion is not the object of the [law] but merely the incidental effect of a generally applicable and otherwise valid provision, the First Amendment has not been offended…. To make an individual’s obligation to obey such a law contingent upon the law’s coincidence with his religious beliefs, except where the State’s interest is “compelling”–permitting him, by virtue of his beliefs, “to become a law unto himself,”–contradicts both constitutional tradition and common sense. To adopt a true “compelling interest” requirement for laws that affect religious practice would lead towards anarchy.”

                    Re: the assembly argument, I am not certain but I doubt content-neutral time/place/manner restrictions on the number of people in a given place will fall under strict scrutiny. I’d be interested to hear Professor Volokh’s take.

                    1. To start with, E D v Smith should be overturned. When the SCOTUS made the decision, and Congress instantly returned with a bipartisan law (The RFRA) to protect religious freedoms..a law that was unanimous in the House and nearly unanimous in the senate….it’s clear that the SCOTUS was not on the side of what the people believed…

                      Moreover such a ban on gatherings could not possibly be considered “generally applicable and otherwise valid provision”

                      Lastly, if the first amendment and the right to peaceable assemblies means ANYTHING, such a massive broad ban (no more than 50 people in any location at any time for any reason) should fall under strict scrutiny. “Content neutral” or not….
                      And that’s before we get to “prosecutorial discretion” under any such supposedly “content neutral laws”.

                    2. @Armchair,

                      “…it’s clear that the SCOTUS was not on the side of what the people believed…”

                      What does that have to do with anything?

                      “Moreover such a ban on gatherings could not possibly be considered “generally applicable and otherwise valid provision””

                      Why not? It is generally applicable. Could you explain what you mean by it not being valid?

                      You think it should fall under strict scrutiny. Cool. That’s your opinion. That’s not the law.

                    3. “What does that have to do with anything”

                      When the vast majority of people believe a SCOTUS decision was incorrect (and in this case, it was a literal unanimous decision in the House)…it usually is. When it still gets followed (Like Dred Scott), it’s generally a bad thing.

                      “Not generally applicable…”

                      This is an extraordinary situation. We generally do not put massive bans on any gathering of more than 50 people any time, any place, any where. It is not normal. That’s before we get into the “fun” that could be done if it was.

                      For the sake of argument, let’s say the Federal government DID put such a ban in place, not because of a public health reason, but just because…call it for “government safety”. Then, have the federal government start enforcing the ban. But the government gets to prioritize, right? Resources are limited after all.

                      You know, the Democratic National Convention is a large group of people. Can’t have that. Let’s break it up. Then on November 4th, those polling places in New York City…lots of people there. Break that up too. Time to disperse. For “Government Safety”. Let’s pick a few more key areas. Perhaps polls in Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit, Madison…all lots of people in an area. Time to break up those areas. Time to disperse.

                      All completely fine, right?

                    4. @Armchair,

                      “When the vast majority of people believe a SCOTUS decision was incorrect…”

                      They can amend the Constitution. What they did instead was pass a law. The law does not change what the Constitution requires, or doesn’t.

                      Your hypothetical about selective enforcement raises no new issues. See Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. The majority remanded to address the pretext argument, and the case law opposed to selective enforcement is discussed in the Stevens concurrence and the Alito dissent. See also Crawford v. Board of Education of Los Angeles, and Kobrin v. University of Minnesota. There’s a lot of circuit courts case law on selective enforcement in many different contexts. Racial discrimination, employment, time place and manner speech restrictions, etc. Are you arguing against any law which can be selectively enforced? Because all laws have this feature.

              3. Actually it does not pass any type of scrutiny. There is no evidence of the effect of this

        2. Although it doesn’t matter to the legal aspects, in this case your knowledge of Judaism appears to be simply mistaken. Professor Volokh recently posted about an article in the Times of Israel saying that a prominent Israeli ultra-Orthodox rabbi ordered his hundreds of thousands of followers to ignore Health Ministry directives.

          Here’s the article:

          https://www.timesofisrael.com/police-bid-to-convince-rabbi-to-close-yeshivas-as-his-sect-defies-virus-rules/

          I don’t know, but maybe the people here are following this rabbi.

            1. Your comment needs context. See this article from Arutz Sheva. The Chief Rabbi of Israel (sephardi) explicitly states public health directives cannot be ignored.

              http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/277530

              In a halachic responsum dealing with communal prayer, the Chief Rabbi emphasized the importance of strict adherence to the Health Ministry’s guidelines, writing, “We trust the decisions of the doctors, and we are obligated not to diverge from their instructions, including in the matter of chillul Shabbat [Sabbath desecration] in cases where there is a real concern of pikuach nefesh [danger to human life] when the entire Torah is set aside in order to preserve life.”

              1. Armchair Lawyer said the matter was completely undisputed in Judiasm. I disagreed.

                Your reply is fully consistent with my comment.

                When the Sephardi Chief Rabbi says to comply with the health authorities, but a prominent Lithuanian Orthodox rabbi says not to comply, that’s what people call a “dispute.”

          1. From the article,

            “Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, David Lau, was photographed Sunday morning demonstrating a personal example to followers, as he prayed in a quorum outdoors with at least two meters of space between each worshiper.”

          2. Although it doesn’t matter to the legal aspects, in this case your knowledge of Judaism appears to be simply mistaken.

            No; he’s correct.

            The example you cite is a factual dispute, not a religious one. The rabbi doesn’t think the health risk is so great.

            1. There is a religious dispute.

              The religious dispute is over whose evidence determines the facts.

              Who decides how risky things are?

              Should rabbis defer to secular doctors, as one camp says? Or, because e.g. the Torah contains all knowledge, the secular world is evil and constantly plotting to overthrow the world of Torah, and perhaps most importantly because great Torah scholars have the Divine ear and their intuitions are true and divinely inspired, should the great Torah scholars undertake to decide these matters for themselves?

              That’s the dispute.

    5. Exodus 22.2 authorizes the breaking of the commandment against murder to save your own life or that of another. This does, however, have to be a DIRECT threat to life and not just a hypothetical one.

      (“Im ba l’hargekha, hashkem l’hargo” — Brachot 58a, 62b)

    6. Incorrect. They cannot practice their religion because it is prohibited. The prohibition will do nothing to save lives. It is unconstitutional.

  6. Even independent of corona Ultra-orthodox are unhygienic vectors for pathogens and stank

    1. As Richard Roma said in Glengarry:
      “How F*****cked Up, you are!”

  7. I’m torn about this. I supposed a super contagious disease can be an exception but I feel that it should probably be one of the few if not the only exception to an otherwise absolute right to free association.

  8. ” . . . more than 50 people are prohibited.”

    So gatherings of 50 are a threat to public safety, but a gathering of 49 is perfectly safe. What is it about that 50th attendee that turns a safe peaceful healthy group into such a threat that the state uses its police force to crush it?

    1. This is a weak argument, at best.

      Obviously there is a continuum where larger and larger groups are more unsafe, and smaller and smaller groups are better. Where someone places the number on what crosses that threshhold is a bit of guesswork, estimates, and balance of certain other factors. But the number does need to be placed for legal and clarity reasons. It’s not perfect, but the best that can be done under the circumstances.

      This argument can be made about any number done for safety reasons. Whether it be speed limits (Why 55 mph is OK, but 56 mph is evil?) safety limits in food (1 ppm toxin is OK, 1.1 ppm is bad) or various other items. These items exist on a continuum, and a best estimate is made at what the top or inflection point is.

      1. Well put, AL.

  9. As I said in a post a few days ago, this isn’t about religion and belief/faith in God, this is about control and obedience to a human.

    1. And here’s what religion says about control and obedience to a human:

      Romans 13 English Standard Version (ESV)

      13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

      1. Please note that the above quotation does not reflect my views. In fact, I think it’s nonsense. I post it merely to show the hypocrisy on the part of some who claim religious belief as a justification for opposing the civil authorities at every turn.

        1. I think it more says that the civil authorities have to be observant of God’s law.

          1. Do you dispute that it also says to obey the civil authorities?

      2. I doubt that Orthodox Jews would be persuaded by this.

  10. It’s too bad those people don’t live in a country with a constitution that protects the right of the people to peaceably assemble.

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