Faith leaders react to SCOTUS ruling on congregation capacity limits

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WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB) — Faith leaders across Western New York say the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule the state’s limit on attendance inside houses of worship could put people’s health at risk.

“We value government regulations regarding COVID. This is a very serious disease, and we’re scared of it, and anything that could give us a bit more protection as we make our determination of what to do is helpful.”

Alex Lazarus-Klein, Congregation Shir Shalom

Williamsville where Congregation Shir Shalom is located is in the orange zone. In the orange zone houses of worship could still have gatherings up to 33% capacity.

But earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled five to four that restrictions limiting attendance are unconstitutional, saying the restrictions “single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”

Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein says he’s disappointed by that ruling. “We know how serious this is. There is no point pointing anyone at risk,” he says.

Although houses of worship can still gather in the orange zone, faith leaders at Congregation Shir Shalom decided it would be best to stop in-person gatherings altogether. “This thing spreads extremely quickly. One person getting it coming in, it’ll knock out our entire staff and potentially put someone at risk.”

Father Paul Seil is the head of Saint Bernadette’s Church, which could hold up to 800 people. He says they were already in the process of complying with the state’s regulations, even having a signup sheet.

Father Seil feels churches should be able to follow a percentage capacity and not keep it limited to a specific number.

“We just want to serve people the Eucharist, sacramental life as best as we can but we want to keep them safe I certainly would not want to be in any way blamed for any super spread or anyone getting sick here.”

Paul Seil, Pastor, Saint Bernadette Church

Inside a red zone, gatherings at synagogues and churches will be limited to 10 people.

Lazarus-Klein says, “We’re prepared for it, we make decisions as a group and you know we’re ready for whatever comes.”

And Seil tells us, “If we were to go to red—I hope we don’t, but that would change things again too for us.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the case will be sent back down to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals for a final ruling.


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