Appearing on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Murphy said that he “wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights” when he signed sweeping executive orders to turning New Jerseyans’ daily routines on their heads. (Law&Crime)
In what could go down in history as among the most disastrous gubernatorial gaffes of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said Wednesday night on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News opinion broadcast that he “wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights” when he signed a series of broad-reaching executive orders which curtailed the freedoms of his loyal subjects — wait, sorry, we mean residents. The trainwreck is over; the railroad cars are scattered everywhere at this point. Let’s don our legal hardhats right now and try to put the cars back on the tracks. This is going to require some heavy gear and multiple cranes.
The first relevant New Jersey executive order, EO-104, shut down large gatherings of more than 50 people starting March 16th. The second such order, EO-107, ordered all residents to “remain home” starting March 21st unless they were leaving for a series of nine reasons, including work, education, and “religious” functions. EO-107 also banned gatherings in general, but with a caveat: “[g]atherings of individuals, such as parties, celebrations, or other social events, are cancelled, unless otherwise authorized.” The third relevant order, also dated March 21st, is EO-108. It prevented local governments from altering the governor’s orders by passing more or less restrictive measures. Murphy’s March 21st press release announcing EO-107 and EO-108 said nothing of religion. During a March 21st coronavirus briefing, Murphy said nothing of “religion,” but he did problematically say this (emphasis added by Law&Crime):
[U]nder this executive order, all gatherings are cancelled until further notice. This means no weddings, in-person services, or even parties. This decision is not an easy one and it pains me that important life moments will not be celebrated in the way we are accustomed to. And I know this will be disappointing to many residents, but my singular goal – our singular goal, not to mention frankly my job – is to make sure we get through this emergency so that you can safely gather with family and friends later and enjoy many more birthdays and weddings in the years to come.
To recap, the written orders allowed people to leave home for “religious” reasons while banning gatherings “unless otherwise authorized.” Arguably, then, EO-107 did allow religious services by “authorizing” people to leave home for “religious” reasons. However, because the governor said “in-person services” were “cancelled,” the governor’s orders were interpreted in some news reports to preclude religious services. In the wake of all of this, some local health officials reportedly issued mandatory health alerts aimed at religious centers and required them to be cleaned.