By Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel
Everyone has had to make adjustments in 2020. Businesses, schools, law firms and even places of worship have had to meet virtually or find other ways of adapting to the new normal. Yet Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) now seeks to hold legislators to a different standard, requiring in-person Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Schumer’s ploy is a transparent attempt to delay the confirmation of a well-qualified Supreme Court nominee.
In New York on Sunday, Schumer declared, “It’s not safe for the Senate to meet in session. It’s not safe for the [confirmation] hearings [of Judge Amy Coney Barrett] to go forward.” And in response to the reasonable suggestion that the confirmations hearings simply be taken online, Schumer turned the phrase, “A virtual hearing is virtually no hearing at all.”
Of course, Americans everywhere have had to meet virtually this year for a wide variety of purposes—including fundamental, constitutionally protected purposes such as the free exercise of religion. Is asking questions of a judicial nominee in-person more sacred than attending a church, synagogue or mosque together in community?
In an instant, houses of worship had to convert to virtual meetings. Meeting in-person was out of the question, and continues to be out of the question in many pockets across the nation. This is no small sacrifice to ask of religious communities, many of whom are struggling to adapt.
Across the nation, government officials have not expressed sympathy for those who believe that virtual church is virtually no church at all. Religious communities have had to make deep sacrifices or risk law enforcement—sometimes selective enforcement—targeting people of faith.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio famously threatened to shut down a synagogue permanently if Orthodox Jewish worshipers refused to follow his edict that they stop meeting in-person. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker threatened to keep churches closed for over a year if they did not bow to his demands that they gather in groups fewer in number than the 12 disciples inside of Prairie State churches.
When Christians in Louisville, Kentucky made the creative decision to hold “drive-in” church services on Easter Sunday, the mayor of Louisville said he intended to send the police to record license plate numbers and force those drivers to endure 14 days of quarantine. For what? For sitting in their cars in a church parking lot with the doors closed and listening to their pastor on the radio.
In California, local health officials continue to target people of faith for their discontent to say prayers, sing hymns or chant behind a computer monitor. Los Angeles County declared that Jewish families could not gather with others outside their household for meals during the High Holidays. All the while, up to 100,000 protestors were permitted to march through Hollywood.
Yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced to the Orthodox Jewish community of New York City, “If you’re not willing to live with these rules, then I’m going to close the synagogues.” The Jewish community may not be that worried; they’ve faced worse tyrants in their history. Still, being “shut down” is a far cry from worshiping virtually.
And that’s just the world of religious liberty. Businesses have also had to resourcefully adjust to the “new normal” of 2020.
The NBA retreated to a bubble. Major League Baseball brought in cut-outs of fans in order to fill seats. Restaurants went online with ordering. News anchors instantly switched to Skype and Zoom interviews. Schools were forced online. Law firms switched from in-person to virtual depositions. Courts went virtual—including the Supreme Court, which continues to hold oral arguments via telephone. Candidates for elected office are hosting virtual town hall meetings.
Even the Virginia General Assembly, controlled by Schumer’s own party, is virtually hosting committee meetings during a special session. Virginia Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn was quoted in The Washington Post as having said, “This is the safest way to conduct the people’s business.” Evidently, “virtual hearings” for these lawmakers are virtually fine.
There is no reason our United States senators cannot do themselves what political elites demand of every church, mosque, synagogue, law firm and business across the nation. In-person or online, our senators have no legitimate reason to fail to do their duty and hold hearings.
None of this has been easy for anyone. Many houses of worship did not have the technical capacity to shift online. Religious rites—like baptism, communion, confession and sacred meals—literally cannot be accomplished virtually. Senators asking questions to a highly qualified nominee can.
It makes no sense to delay the confirmation proceedings of Judge Barrett any further. The American people deserve nothing less.
Note: This article was first published on Newsweek and is re-published here with permission. The article presents the main points of an op-ed published in Newsweek. This work was authored by Stephanie Taub . The full article can be found on the YYYYYY website, here.