CHEVY CHASE, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - The Supreme Court's recent decision involving coronavirus restrictions for places of worship in New York may play a role in a Maryland lawsuit filed challenging Gov. Larry Hogan's restrictions.
Just before midnight on Thanksgiving, the high court ruled 5-4 against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying his restrictions on places or worship in several boroughs of New York violated the First Amendment.
Katie Barlow, media editor for SCOTUSblog, tells FOX 5 the case is now precedent, which may help other similar cases end in victories for religious institutions challenging restrictions.
On Thanksgiving, Maryland Del. Dan Cox, who represents Frederick and Caroll Counties, filed an appeal to a lawsuit that challenged Gov. Larry Hogan's restrictions on places of worship and other businesses.
What may set the Maryland case apart from the New York case, which SCOTUS ruled on, is that Hogan's restrictions are applied equally to religious organizations and other businesses. Cuomo's restrictions singled out places of worship for harsher restrictions, the court's majority opinion said.
"What the Supreme Court said is that Governor Andrew Cuomo can't specifically single out religious organizations and limit their capacity for gathering and that's what his order did," Barlow said.
But given the high court's signal that it would protect free exercise of religion, Barlow says Maryland winning the current case on appeal or a similar case raised by a religious institution is not automatic.
"I'm not sure that it's a slam dunk, even if it does evenly apply to gatherings religious and not, but I think it's a closer case and I think it's one that I wouldn't be too surprised if we see come up to the court as we head into higher COVID numbers across the country and as governors are grappling on how to limit gatherings and how to help fight the growing numbers across the country," Barlow said.
Asked if Gov. Hogan will ease restrictions on religious gatherings as a result of the SCOTUS decision, a spokeswoman sent FOX 5 the following statement:
"One respected federal judge has already concluded that Governor Hogan's actions are constitutional, reasonable, and science-based. We are confident that the appellate court will agree. It is disappointing, though, that taxpayer resources must be diverted to defending against frivolous litigation in the middle of a genuine public health crisis."