Just the News | Alex Nitzberg | July 28, 2020
Sen. Ted Cruz on Tuesday introduced legislation that would financially penalize states and local jurisdictions that engage in religious discrimination against people or institutions with regard to coronavirus restrictions.
The Texas Republican’s Safeguarding Americans from Coronavirus and Religious Exercise Discrimination (SACRED) Act would withhold COVID-19 funding from states and jurisdictions that the attorney general determines are discriminating. The money would not be released until the attorney general determines that the violation has ceased.
The bill provides that if a state or jurisdiction is found to be discriminating after the coronavirus funding has already been disbursed, the federal agency that would disburse the money should withhold some other funding slated to go to that state or jurisdiction until the violation has been resolved.
States and jurisdictions would also be barred from giving coronavirus funding to other states and jurisdictions engaging in religious discrimination.
“Throughout this pandemic we’ve seen numerous examples of state and local governments instituting discriminatory regulations that unfairly target people of faith and which restrict houses of worship from operating while exempting secular gatherings and operations from the same rules,” Cruz said in a press release.
“As Congress continues to provide relief funds to combat the impact of COVID-19, it is crucial that we protect the First Amendment right of religious liberty from discrimination. That’s why I’ve introduced the SACRED Act. By blocking funds from governments that discriminate against religious organizations, we can fairly protect religious liberty and the rights of those who seek to gather together safely for worship,” he said.
In a close 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected a Nevada church’s request for injunctive relief regarding the state’s religious service capacity restrictions which are much tighter than the restraints placed on other establishments such as casinos.
“The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or black-jack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance. But the Governor of Nevada apparently has different priorities,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a dissent in which he was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.
“Claiming virtually unbounded power to restrict constitutional rights during the COVID–19 pandemic, he has issued a directive that severely limits attendance at religious services. A church, synagogue, or mosque, regardless of its size, may not admit more than 50 persons, but casinos and certain other favored facilities may admit 50% of their maximum occupancy—and in the case of gigantic Las Vegas casinos, this means that thousands of patrons are allowed,” Alito wrote.