New Jersey Governor: 'I Wasn't Thinking About the Bill of Rights' When I Banned Religious Services
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey told Fox News on Wednesday he wasn’t thinking about the Bill of Rights or the free exercise of religion when he issued severe lockdown orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson questioned the state’s lockdown and asked the governor to provide a constitutional basis for orders that saw 15 men charged for attending an Orthodox Jewish funeral earlier this month.
“The Bill of Rights, as you well know, protects Americans’ right — enshrines their right — to practice their religion as they see fit and to congregate together to assemble peacefully,” Carlson said during the interview on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” “By what authority did you nullify the Bill of Rights in issuing this order?”
“That’s above my pay grade, Tucker,” the Democrat said through a chuckle.
“So I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this. We went to all, first of all, we looked at the data and the science and it says people have to stay away from each other,” Murphy added.
Carlson was visibly taken aback by the cavalier nature in which Murphy answered his question about the Bill of Rights.
“Well, I can tell,” he said in reference to Murphy saying he didn’t consider the Constitution when issuing social distancing orders.
Carlson added that while he agrees that the coronavirus pandemic is a unique situation, he again asked Murphy to justify an order that “so clearly contravenes the Bill of Rights of the United States.”
Murphy said people must “stay away” from each other and reminded Carlson he has “broad authority” to make such decisions — and added he counseled with certain religious leaders across New Jersey before issuing struck stay-at-home orders.
“We would never do that without coordinating, discussing and hashing it out with the leaders of the faiths of New Jersey,” Murphy said.
The governor also said he consulted with attorneys before issuing orders that essentially banned religious services, telling Carlson, “I don’t go to the men’s room without consulting an attorney, so I guarantee you we did that.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that 15 men were charged with violating Murphy’s ban on social gatherings when they attended an Orthodox Jewish funeral at a synagogue in Lakewood, New Jersey, earlier this month.
The funerals were included in Murphy’s March 21 zero-tolerance ban on “parties, celebrations and other social events,” the newspaper reported.
NJ.com reported on Murphy’s order requiring the state’s 9 million people to stay home unless they were needed by government at the time it was issued.
“Only if we need you out there, only if you’re an essential service in which case we do need you — otherwise, stay at home,” the governor said at a media briefing.
The lockdown order allows for restaurants, bars and liquor stores to remain open, as long as they modify services to takeout only.
Medical marijuana dispensaries, laundromats and home improvement retail stores are also allowed to remain open, as long as people remain 6 feet apart.
“This decision is not an easy one, and it pains me that important life moments will not be celebrated the way we are accustomed to,” Murphy said of the indefinite order.
New Jersey has had the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., behind New York.
The state has reported more than 70,000 cases of the coronavirus and more than 3,000 deaths have been attributed to the virus as of Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins.
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