New Jersey Governor Says He ‘Wasn’t Thinking’ of Bill of Rights When Issuing Restrictive Orders

April 16, 2020 Updated: April 16, 2020

The governor of New Jersey says he wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when he issued restrictive orders in an attempt to slow the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, a novel coronavirus that emerged from mainland China last year.

Like many governors, Gov. Phil Murphy in recent weeks ordered a lockdown, mandating residents stay at home with few exceptions. New Jersey has cracked down on people violating the orders, including arresting and charging 15 people who attended a funeral at a synagogue.

The Bill of Rights protects Americans’ right to practice religion as they see fit and congregate together. Murphy was asked by what authority he nullified the first amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

“That’s above my pay grade, Tucker,” Murphy responded. “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 that says people have to stay away from each other.”

He was speaking during an appearance on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

Epoch Times Photo
Rev. Brian X. Needles delivers Easter Sunday Mass via livestream at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in South Orange, New Jersey on April 12, 2020. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Tucker Carlson, the host, pressed Murphy about the issue, prompting Murphy to respond: “We know we need to stay away from each other, number one. 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 variety of the leaders of the faiths of New Jersey.”

Carlson alleged that the governor cannot “tell people who they can talk to when and where because the Constitution of the United States, upon which all of this is based, prohibits you from doing that. So you clearly decided that you could do it.” He also asked if the governor consulted an attorney.

Murphy said he could guarantee state officials consulted lawyers before issuing the orders.

Murphy’s stay at home order was initially issued on March 21. It had no end date. Murphy extended the state’s health emergency, which he declared on March 9, by 30 days last week. The same day, he shut down most parks in the state.

Murphy, a Democrat who assumed office in 2018, faced more questioning on why the state has allowed liquor stores to stay open while banning all public gatherings, including at places of worship.

“On what scientific basis did you decide that sitting in a church was much more dangerous than buying liquor in a liquor store?” Carlson said. “I don’t understand the reasoning. I don’t want to think it had anything to do with tax revenues.”

Epoch Times Photo
A customer leaves a liquor store while wearing a mask in Jersey City, New Jersey on April 10, 2020. (Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

Recovery and addiction specialists said the state would see “unintended mental health and addiction consequences” if liquor stores were closed. He said people can worship “virtually” at home.

In a statement announcing the arrests of the synagogue attendees in Lakewood, Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer cited Murphy’s order.

“The Governor has banned all public gatherings during this state and national public health emergency. This ban applies to everyone,” he said in a statement. “To be blunt, ignoring the Governor’s Order places lives at risk—not just the lives of everyday citizens, but the lives of our brave men and women in Law Enforcement who are required to respond in order to break up these unlawful gatherings.”

Ryan Tucker, director of the Center for Christian Ministries and Senior Counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, told The Epoch Times that states must not treat churches and other places of worship differently under stay at home orders but that states can likely temporarily order places or worship closed if they aren’t treated differently.

“Temporary, evenly applied restrictions may be permissible or upheld on a court challenge but if restrictions are unnecessarily prolonged, if they’re vague in their language, and certainly if they’re targeting the church or treating the church differently, then there are certain constitutional concerns and problems with those orders,” he said, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.

The longer restrictions are in place, the more likely people will file lawsuits against them, he added.

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