New Jersey Ban on Religious Gatherings: Governor Phil Murphy ‘Wasn’t Thinking of the Bill of Rights’

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New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy takes part in a summit in New York City, October 17, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said Wednesday that he was not thinking of the Bill of Rights when he implemented strict social distancing measures across the state, saying the consideration is “above my pay grade.”

During an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Murphy defended his decision to ban social gatherings, even religious events such as funerals, saying more than 3 million residents — about a third of New Jersey’s population — would have caught the coronavirus if he had not imposed the restrictions.

“By what authority did you nullify the Bill of Rights in issuing this order?” Carlson asked the governor, citing constitutional protections for freedom association and religious practice.

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“That’s above my pay grade, Tucker,” Murphy responded. “I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this. … We went to the scientists who said people have to stay away from each other.”

“That’s the best thing we can do to break the back of the curve of this virus,” the governor said.

Murphy issued an executive order on March 21 ordering residents to remain at home except for necessary errands and requiring the closure of nonessential businesses until the crisis is over.

Carlson continued to press Murphy, saying his action “clearly contravenes the Bill of Rights.”

“We know we need to stay away from each other, number one,” Murphy said. “Number two, we do have broad authority within the state. And number three, we would never do that without coordinating, discussing, and hashing it out with the leaders of the faiths of New Jersey.”

Earlier this month, police in Lakewood charged 15 men with violating New Jersey’s ban on large social gatherings by holding a rabbi’s funeral at a synagogue.

Carlson also asked Murphy whether he had consulted an attorney about the restrictions.

“I don’t go to the men’s room without consulting an attorney, so I guarantee you we did that,” Murphy quipped.

As of Thursday morning, New Jersey has more than 71,000 coronavirus cases and at least 3,156 deaths from the respiratory illness.

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