(CNS News) -- Actions apparently designed to combat the coronavirus have resulted in "previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty," said Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito on Thursday, in remarks presented by video before the Federalist Society's 2020 National Lawyers Convention.
Justice Alito stressed that he was not passing judgment on the necessity or legality of the restrictions, but only pointing out how they have limited Americans' liberty, particularly in terms of religious liberty and freedom of speech.
“I’m now going to say something that I hope will not be twisted or misunderstood, but I have spent more than 20 years in Washington, so I’m not overly optimistic," said Alito. "In any event, here goes. The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty."
"Now, notice what I am not saying or even implying," he said. "I am not diminishing the severity of the virus’s threat to public health. And putting aside what I will say shortly, about a few Supreme Court cases, I’m not saying anything about the legality of COVID restrictions. Nor am I saying anything about whether any of these restrictions represent good public policy – I’m a judge, not a policy maker."
He continued, “All that I’m saying is this, and I think it is an indisputable statement of fact: We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive, and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020."
‘Think about all the live events that would otherwise be protected by freedom of speech – live speeches, conferences, lectures, meetings," said the Justice.
"Think of worship services," he added. "Churches closed on Easter Sunday, synagogues closed for Passover and Yom Kippur. Think about access to the courts, and the constitutional right to a speedy trial. Trials in federal courts have virtually disappeared in many places. Who could have imagined that?"
“The COVID crisis has served as sort of a constitutional stress test,” said Alito.
In addition to COVID rules that have restricted religious liberty, Justice Alito also talked about how some legal challenges would limit free speech. He specifically noted the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order of nuns who care for the elderly poor.
“It pains me to say this,” said Alito, “but in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.”
On challenges to free speech, the First Amendment, Alito said, “You can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Until very recently that’s what a vast majority of Americans thought. Now it's considered bigotry.”
To see Alito's entire address, click here.
Alito, 70, was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2005 by President George W. Bush.