The vice president and executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said Sunday, that her organization is fighting in court to ensure Americans have open places of worship as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.
In an interview with Fox News’ Steve Hilton, Montse Alvarado said her group and others have waged ongoing court battles with governors for months to allow churches, mosques, and synagogues to open under the same restrictions and guidelines as many businesses, but often it’s been a losing effort.
“This is really an important moment for religious freedom,” Alvarado said, adding that “three months into the pandemic” her organization began “fighting in Wisconsin and Minnesota trying to open up what we needed, which was parity.”
Her group is fighting “to open up churches in the same way that businesses and movie theaters were being opened up by their governors.”
“This is really becoming a game of cat-and-mouse that the governors are playing with the courts,” Alvarado continued. “They’re trying to change the rules every time that someone files a lawsuit and gets them in trouble.”
“At some point, someone has to put their foot down and say, ‘you are not allowed to treat houses of worship and religious freedom unfairly, illegally in this country,” she said.
Various lawsuits filed on behalf of churches and other houses of worship throughout the pandemic have alleged that coronavirus restrictions on gatherings, along with mandatory closures, are violations of the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections.
Many suits, however, have failed as courts regularly deferred to state laws authorizing elected officials to take extreme measures during health emergencies.
Asked how she believes the issue will play out, Alvarado said her organization is currently following new legal challenges, specifically a case in New York.
In that case, “you have the Brooklyn diocese that has filed up for emergency protection from the Supreme Court.”
She said her organization was also supporting legal action from synagogues in New York City “that were targeted by Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo.”
“He’s been playing this game of collective blame, I’m sure you’re heard of that,” Alvarado said. “The FBI hate crimes report came out [recently] citing that 60 percent of hate crimes in the United States are against the Jewish community.”
“But it’s as if Gov. Cuomo and [NYC] Mayor [Bill] de Blasio just haven’t heard those statistics, so they don’t understand what’s going on in their own city because they continue to place the blame of superspreader events which simply is not true,” she said.
After Hilton called the two Democrats’ behavior “offensive,” Alvarado agreed and added it is “also incredibly dangerous.”
“You have the proof” in the FBI report, she said. “They’re playing games that are going to end up inciting violence.
Earlier this month, a synagogue in Brooklyn managed to pull off a massive wedding attended by thousands of celebrants, but had to plan the event in secret over the fear of drawing fines and other punitive punishment from the city for violating COVID restrictions.
Cuomo has since called for an investigation into the synagogue for its “blatant violation of the law.”
But both he and de Blasio have been heavily criticized throughout the pandemic for what critics said was a heavy-handed enforcement approach towards the Jewish community in general, which has sparked a growing backlash.
Hilton went on to note that President Donald Trump managed to win more Latino votes this year than in 2016, which Alvarado said was due, in part, to his support for their religious freedom.
“When you come to the United States as an immigrant, you’re voting with a very different motivation, and that is something that political parties are going to have to wake up to,” she said.
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