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COVID can’t unfairly let pols treat believers like second-class citizens

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COVID can’t unfairly let pols treat believers like second-class citizens

When Christians met in each other’s homes for prayer or Bible study, they had to be careful. Such gatherings were illegal, and the organizers never knew who might inform the authorities.

Although that sounds like a scene from the Soviet Union, it in fact describes the situation in California under COVID-19 regulations that the Supreme Court blocked last Friday. By issuing an injunction against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions, the Supremes reaffirmed that politicians must comply with the Constitution when they decide how to deal with a pandemic.

The main rule at issue in this case limited at-home religious gatherings, whether inside or outside, to people from no more than three households. If two people from different households joined a host for a prayer meeting or Bible study session, for example, no one else was allowed to come.

As the petitioners noted, that limit “does not permit an individual to gather with others in her own backyard to study the Bible, pray or worship with members of more than two other households, all of which are common (and deeply important) practices of millions of contemporary Christians in the United States.” Meanwhile, California was allowing much larger groups to gather in other settings: inside stores, barbershops, nail salons, tattoo parlors, movie studios and (in some counties) restaurants, for example — or outdoors at restaurants, wineries, gyms, movie theaters, zoos, museums, sporting events, concerts, political demonstrations, weddings and funerals.

The upshot was that Californians could “sit for a haircut with 10 other people in a barbershop, eat in a half-full restaurant (with members of 20 different families) or ride with 15 other people on a city bus.” But they were not allowed to “host three people from different households for a Bible study indoors or in their backyards.”

Justice Elena Kagan, who objected to the Supreme Court’s injunction in a dissent joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, argued that the Golden State’s regulations did not implicate the First Amendment to the US Constitution, because they were neutral and generally applicable. The state “has adopted a blanket restriction on at-home gatherings of all kinds, religious and secular alike,” she noted.

The petitioners argued that Newsom’s rules nevertheless amounted to “a subtle but unmistakable religious gerrymander.” Five justices were inclined to agree, concluding that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail in their claim that the restrictions on private religious meetings violated the First Amendment.

This isn’t the first time that the high court has called attention to the impact of COVID-19 control measures on religious freedom. It blocked enforcement of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s onerous restrictions on houses of worship in New York last November, vacated a decision upholding Colorado’s limits on religious services in December and reached similar conclusions in four cases involving state and local regulations in California two months later.

By now, the court said, it should be clear that public-health regulations are subject to strict scrutiny “whenever they treat any comparable secular activity more favorably than religious exercise,” and that the relevant consideration is “the risks various activities pose, not the reasons why people gather.” To pass strict scrutiny, a state has to “show that measures less restrictive of the First Amendment activity” — such as face masks, physical distancing and more generous group limits — “could not address its interest in reducing the spread of COVID.”

Kagan is certainly right, based on the court’s pre-pandemic precedents, that disease-control measures can be constitutional even if they incidentally impinge on religious freedom. But Kagan, Breyer and Sotomayor always seem willing to accept politicians’ public-health judgments, even when they are scientifically dubious, change in the midst of litigation or result in policies that privilege politically influential industries or explicitly treat religious gatherings as a disfavored category.

At this point, it isn’t clear that Kagan and her allies on the high court can imagine any disease-control policy that would violate the Free Exercise Clause, provided it was presented as necessary for the protection of public health, as such policies always are.

Twitter: @JacobSullum

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Opinion

Biden’s ‘infrastructure’ plan is really a massive push to unionize the US workforce

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Biden’s ‘infrastructure’ plan is really a massive push to unionize the US workforce

President Joe Biden is traveling to Virginia and Louisiana this week to pitch his American Jobs Plan — also called an “infrastructure” plan. New bridges, safer highways and more broadband are easy sells. But that’s only half the story.

This is also a massive and coercive push to unionize the American workforce — whether workers want it or not.

Biden’s plan is a wish list of changes sought by union bosses. It cancels right-to-work laws in 27 states that protect workers from having to pay union dues if they don’t want to join.

It also rigs union elections by replacing secret balloting with a system called card check. Organizers will be able to see which workers vote “no” and intimidate them. 

During the 2020 presidential contest, unions donated millions to Biden’s campaign, manned phone banks and got out the vote for Democrats. Now it’s payback time.

The goal of the American Jobs Plan is to increase the ranks of dues-paying union members. When the next election rolls around, that will fund more campaign contributions to Democrats and more union help on Election Day.

Unionizing America is the strategy to secure a permanent Democratic majority, the rights of rank-and-file workers be damned.

Gig-economy independent contractors, such as Uber drivers, also lose their freedom under Biden’s plan. It forces them to be “employees” and therefore ripe for unionization. A similar plan imposed by California Democrats evoked popular outrage and had to be revoked. Unfazed, Biden’s pushing ahead on a national scale.

Addressing the nation last week, Biden boasted he’ll protect labor’s right to organize. News flash: It doesn’t need protecting. Only 10.8 percent of American workers are unionized because most workers don’t want to share their paycheck with union bosses. In the private sector, it’s even smaller, a minuscule 6 percent.

When a union tried to organize Amazon warehouse employees in Bessemer, Ala., last month, Biden blasted out a video on social media supporting the union drive. But the warehouse workers voted against unionizing.

Congressional Republicans are bashing the $2.3 trillion price tag on Biden’s American Jobs Plan and the job-killing corporate tax hikes to pay for it. Those are legitimate grievances. But the GOP should also be protesting the president’s assault on labor rights.

Biden boasts he’s a “union president.” Someone has to look out for the 90 percent of workers who don’t belong to unions. Republicans should make it their job. 

On April 26, Biden wrongly claimed that it is “the policy of the United States to encourage worker organizing and collective bargaining,” and he called for an increase in “worker power” — sounding like Karl Marx calling on workers to unite. In an unprecedented move, he is also establishing a task force to throw the entire weight of the federal government behind organizing American workers. 

Recent polls show a slim majority of Americans support the infrastructure plan. That’s because they haven’t seen the fine print making it nearly impossible for nonunion employers and workers to benefit. When union organizers show up at job sites, contractors will have to stay “neutral,” according to the slippery language in Biden’s plan, instead of making their case like Amazon successfully did.

To unionize America, Biden stretches the meaning of “infrastructure” to include anything your tax dollars can buy. The biggest item is a whopping $400 billion to pay home health workers, who will be given “an opportunity to organize or join a union and collectively bargain.” 

In 2020, the Service Employees International Union, which represents these aides, supported Biden, and candidate Biden pledged $450 billion for more health-aide jobs. On your tab, of course.

Biden’s plan fleeces taxpayers and sabotages the rights of nonunion workers. All under the guise of “infrastructure.”

April’s jobs report, to be released Friday, is expected to show possibly more than 1 million new hires. The economy is rebounding without Biden’s infrastructure bill. America needs better roads and bridges, but not at the cost of workers’ freedom. The GOP should stand firm on that principle.

Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.

Twitter: @Betsy_McCaughey

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As 24/7 service resumes, the city must protect the subways from the homeless

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As 24/7 service resumes, the city must protect the subways from the homeless

It’s great that 24/7 subway service resumes May 17, but the challenge now will be ensuring the homeless don’t take over again.

After Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer this week joined the parade of calls for full service, Gov. Andrew Cuomo finally announced the end of the nightly cleaning closures.

But the real reason he ordered them in the first place, nearly a year ago, was to create an opportunity to eject the homeless — who had taken over stations and turned entire cars into their domiciles amid the low ridership during lockdown.

Ever since, cops, social workers and MTA employees have been escorting stragglers out during the “cleaning” hours (initially 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., but just 2 to 4 since February).

Even so, an April survey for the Coalition for the Homeless showed that most homeless turned down offers of transport to a shelter, returning to the streets or back to the subways as they reopened.

Ridership is creeping back up, so May 17 may not bring the situation right back to the mess before Cuomo’s shutdown, but it’ll be up to the MTA and city government to stand firm. Yet Mayor Bill de Blasio has so far ignored calls from the MTA and a host of labor leaders to get more uniformed cops into the subway.

Even with the nightly shutdowns, mentally ill homeless have been acting out in deadly fashion: In recent months, the city’s seen more innocents pushed onto the tracks than it normally does in a decade. All by itself, that’s cause for a major influx of police and social workers to start enforcing basic standards of public behavior.

This mayor never wants to use tough love, but if he resists it now he could see the homeless derail the subways’ return, and with it the entire city reopening.

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Sorry, but the Biden era will never be a New Deal 2.0

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Sorry, but the Biden era will never be a New Deal 2.0

We don’t know what the Biden years will ultimately look like, but one thing is pretty obvious, at least to me: It won’t be a new New Deal, nor will this be the beginning of a new Progressive Era.

The New Deal, particularly in the beginning, was very popular — and so were the Democrats. In 1930, Herbert Hoover was so unpopular that Democrats picked up 52 seats in the House and eight in the Senate.

Two years later, Franklin D. Roosevelt won in a landslide, carrying 42 states and 57.4 percent of the popular vote. That year, Republicans lost a staggering 101 House seats and 11 Senate seats.

And in 1934, for the first time since the Civil War, the president’s party gained seats in the midterms, adding nine more House seats and nine more Senate seats, giving the Democrats a filibuster-proof supermajority.

In 2020, Joe Biden won by a comfortable margin in the popular vote, but his margin in the Electoral College was the same as Donald Trump’s in 2016 — and somewhat narrower in that a mere 43,000 votes in three states carried the day for him.

Meanwhile, despite widespread predictions of major Democratic gains, the GOP flipped 15 Democratic seats in the House, while Democrats took only three previously Republican ones. No incumbent Republican lost. The Democrats won back the Senate, but only after Trump cost Republicans two winnable races in the Georgia runoff. The Senate is now tied, with Vice President Kamala Harris giving control to the Democrats.

If Biden had the wind at his back the way FDR did, Democrats wouldn’t be demanding the abolition of the Senate filibuster or trying to squeeze his agenda through procedural gimmicks such as reconciliation.

And about that agenda: Yes, it is certainly ambitious. In dollar terms, it’s comparable to the New Deal and Great Society. But as Mickey Kaus has noted, the nature of the spending is qualitatively different. “Roosevelt established Social Security, passed the National Labor Relations Act, created the WPA jobs plan plus the cash-aid program for ‘dependent children’ that came to be known as ‘welfare,’ LBJ passed the Civil Rights Act and started food stamps. Also Medicare,” Kaus writes. “Biden, in contrast, isn’t even lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60.”

Much of Biden’s agenda amounts to one-time outlays, going to Americans in the form of direct relief or gigantic payouts to state governments. The spending, both already passed and the stuff he’s proposing, is unwarranted, I would argue. This isn’t 1932, and America is poised for an economic boom as businesses and jobs recover from the pandemic’s effects.

Meanwhile, the Progressive Era wasn’t simply a time of increased government activism — though it was certainly that. It was an intellectual and ideological revolution centered in large part on the idea that experts and planners, in and out of government, should have free rein to design and guide society from above. This was a time when “social engineer” had a positive connotation.

Now is not a time that there is a lot of trust in planners and experts, certainly not on the right. But even on the left, I don’t see much deference to authority, as young people harass oldsters for not being woke enough and communities such as Brookline, Mass. — one of the most educated places in America — go against Centers for Disease Control advice and stick to strict outdoor mask requirements.

FDR’s transformative agenda was a direct result of popular support. Biden’s is a direct result of something closer to the opposite. He has a brief window to cram as much stuff through as possible before he loses control of the House or Senate and before the sense of crisis created by the pandemic evaporates.

You can applaud it or denounce it, but you shouldn’t call it a new New Deal.

Twitter: @JonahDispatch

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