Amicus Brief concerning the restrictions imposed on houses of worship

December 17, 2020

Last month, MPAC was asked to join an Amicus Brief in support of the suit filed by Agudas Yisrael of America concerning the restrictions imposed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration on houses of worship. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court of the United States, leading to the issuance of an injunction in favor of Agudas Yisrael of America. Since signing on to the Amicus Brief, MPAC has consulted with additional public health and policy experts and has subsequently evolved in its thinking around the case, as well as the broader ramifications the Supreme Court's actions may have on our collective ability as a nation to confront the deadly spread of COVID-19. Our intent has always been to stand in strong support of science and public health while upholding America's bedrock values of religious freedom, but it is important that we do so while acknowledging these core principles:

  1. MPAC, as a Muslim-American organization, values the preservation of human life above all else, and our faith tradition teaches us that this supersedes the need to hold communal religious services in the midst of a public health crisis. Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad would cancel congregational prayers in the event of heavy rains, out of an overabundance of caution that no worshipper risk their safety.
  2. We expect our elected leaders to use their best judgment, in consultation with public health and policy experts, to navigate our nation through this unprecedented global pandemic.  MPAC recognizes that with fluctuating infection rates and a rapidly evolving understanding of how COVID-19 spreads, officials face inherent difficulties in choosing the correct course when making decisions with incomplete and sometimes contradictory information.
  3. Given the severity and ever-evolving nature of COVID-19, we assume that our elected leaders and public servants are acting in good faith and that most restrictions that affect religious institutions are necessary and not informed by malicious intent to scapegoat any religious group. To the extent that religious communities feel unfairly targeted or their practices misunderstood in the context of these restrictions, governments should work in close partnership to resolve these challenges while continuing to take a science and data-driven approach to containing the spread of COVID-19. 
  4. In particular, MPAC recognizes that large prolonged indoor gatherings, especially involving communal speaking or singing or vocal recitation of prayers, creates an environment conducive to the spread of COVID-19. Limiting such gatherings, especially as cases surge in cities and states across the country, is clearly necessary from a public health perspective and is also the moral responsibility of people of faith to uphold.  
  5. We also believe that equal restrictions should be consistently applied to the same types of gatherings outside of religious settings and that any apparent discrepancies in enforcement, even unintentionally, should be directly addressed and clarified. 
  6. Bad facts make for bad laws, and asking the courts to adjudicate these issues is likely placing judges in the role of public health experts, a role to which they are really not well-equipped to handle.  Decisions by the SCOTUS carry national precedence, and could have unintended consequences, so asking the SCOTUS to navigate these issues, especially in the midst of the worst weeks ever of this current pandemic, is not in the best interest of the nation.
  7. The SCOTUS decision is not the final word; it is simply a temporary injunction that has been rendered moot by the fact that the particular neighborhoods affected by the governor’s orders are no longer in the zone requiring those restrictions.  The case is being returned to the lower court for full consideration.  MPAC would support a negotiated, out-of-court resolution of this issue that balances the absolute priority of preserving life while ensuring that we treat all non-essential public activities by the same standard.
  8. It is incumbent on American Muslims and people of all faiths to work together with federal, state, and local government to ensure rules and restrictions are as informed by science and data as they are by a clear understanding of how operations and religious services at houses of worship are actually managed. 




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