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TRENTON, New Jersey, April 16, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Democratic New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he “wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights” when he prohibited large gatherings of more than 50 people, including religious gatherings, in his state due to the coronavirus pandemic. “That’s above my paygrade,” he told Tucker Carlson during a Fox News interview on April 15.
Carlson pressed the governor multiple times on the constitutionality of a move that effectively banned significant numbers of people from coming together for worship services.
“How do you have the authority to order something that so clearly contravenes the Bill of Rights of the United States, the U.S. Constitution? Where do you get the authority to do that?” he asked.
“I’m just going to ask you one last time because I think it’s important. I’m sure you’ve thought about this. You can’t just, as the governor of a state, tell people who they can talk to, when, and where, because the Constitution of the United States, upon which all of this is based, prohibits you from doing that,” Carlson followed up.
Murphy then explained how he called Cardinal Joseph Tobin CSsR, the Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey. “I said, listen, I’m really concerned about drive-through Holy Communion because we had heard some stories about priests who unwittingly had the virus and unwittingly passed it on to parishioners.”
Tobin declared nobody was doing that, promising to “confirm that with my fellow bishops.”
“That’s not denying someone their right to worship in any way. We have to find a different way to worship,” Murphy continued.
Carlson fired back that “government’s not allowed to tell people how to worship.”
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees not only freedom of speech, but also freedom of religion, including the “free exercise” of that religion.
Carlson also pressed Murphy on the fact that liquor stores are not affected by the coronavirus pandemic, as they are allowed to stay open. The governor argued that shutting down liquor stores would have led to “unintended mental health and addiction prices to pay, unintended consequences.”
Then, Carlson asked about potential mental health effects of not being able to go to church.
“I think we’ve had a very good common ground with faith leaders of literally every faith who understand this,” Murphy responded. He assured viewers leaving liquor stores open had nothing to do with tax revenues.
Interestingly, on March 18, Governor Murphy had insisted that “[w]e need all walks of our life, and in this case especially our faith leaders, to adhere to the 50-person maximum requirement in terms of gathering. We must get 100% compliance in our faith communities and around the state.”
During the March 18 press conference, he admitted that “because of these actions, we know that many of our houses of worship at the same time are facing very real challenges, and we pledge to work with them to seek out creative ways to mitigate their pain and ensure their long-term health.”
On the very same day, Cardinal Joseph Tobin announced that “all public celebrations of daily and Sunday Mass will be suspended until further notice.”
Similarly, “all public celebrations of the Sacraments and other public forms of worship are also suspended until further notice. This includes, but is not limited to, previously scheduled Confirmations, celebrations of First Communion, penitential services, Communion services, and Liturgies of the Word.”
According to the website of the Archdiocese of Newark, the decision “was made out of deep concern for the well-being of the faithful and wider community, especially those most at risk of serious illness or death, and in cooperation with statewide mandates.”
Three days later, on March 21, Governor Murphy issued Executive Order 107, a stay-at-home order that explicitly listed religious motives as an acceptable reason for citizens to leave their houses. “All New Jersey residents shall remain home or at their place of residence unless they are … leaving the home for an educational, religious, or political reason,” the Governor wrote.
In any case, people were still required to “practice social distancing and stay six feet apart whenever practicable, excluding immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners.”
The arrest of 15 Jews at a synagogue in Lakewood, New Jersey, which was brought up by Carlson in the interview, apparently did not take place because it was a religious gathering. Instead, the Washington Post reported, police found “60 to 70 people gathered outside the synagogue,” which exceeded Murphy’s “50-person maximum.”
Newsweek summarized the religious exemptions in various states in an article published just before Easter. “New York, the state with the most COVID-19 cases in the nation by far, has not restricted religious gatherings, although the state ‘strongly recommended’ that in-person services not be held. The states with the second and third most cases, New Jersey and Michigan, also include religious exemptions in their stay-at-home orders.”
Tobin is considered one of the most progressive bishops in the United States. In 2018, he tweeted, “Nighty-night baby. I love you.” He later deleted the Tweet and claimed it was “meant as a private communication with one of my sisters.”
In 2017, the Archbishop personally welcomed homosexuals to the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark as part of a self-described “LGBT Pilgrimage.”
Murphy, who is pro-abortion and signed assisted suicide into law in New Jersey, said, “We’ve got too many lost souls, believe me. Every one of them is a precious life.”