Justice Alito warns of threats to religious liberty in remarks to Federalist Society

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is warning against threats to religious liberty and freedom of speech amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying it has resulted in “previously unimaginable” restrictions on Americans.

Alito, 70, said during a virtual keynote speech Thursday to the conservative Federalist Society that he didn’t intend to downplay the “severity of the virus’ threat” to public health, but called out what he sees as government overreach in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

“The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on personal liberty,” the George W. Bush appointee told the conference, cautioning others not to misinterpret his words. “We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020.”

Alito added: “Whatever one may think about COVID restrictions, we surely don’t want them to become a recurring feature after the pandemic has passed.”

The conservative justice also claimed “tolerance for opposing views is now in short supply,” saying that many recent law school graduates are chastised, harassed or face retaliation for views not aligned with “law school orthodoxy.”

“In certain quarters, religious liberty has fast become a disfavored right,” Alito said. “For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom. It’s often just an excuse for bigotry and it can’t be tolerated even when there’s no evidence that anybody has been harmed.”

Alito even suggested that Christians face criticism regarding their religious beliefs similar to the restrictions the US placed on Germany and Japan following World War II.

“Is our country going to follow that course?” Alito said. “ … The question we face is whether our society will be inclusive enough to tolerate people with unpopular religious beliefs.”

Alito also cited two cases earlier this year in which the court sided with states while citing the coronavirus pandemic for restrictions on the size of religious gatherings. The court ruled 5-4 in both cases, allowing the limitations to continue.

The resulting restrictions “blatantly discriminated against house of worship” Alito said Thursday, adding that he believed religious liberty is in danger of becoming a “second-class” right.

With Post wires

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