US Justice Alito: COVID-19 led to ‘unimaginable’ curbs on liberty

US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said the COVID-19 pandemic had led to “previously unimaginable” curbs on individual liberty, singling out restrictions on religious events.

The justice, who is seen as a conservative, told a meeting of the Federalist Society late on Thursday he was not underplaying the severity of the crisis or criticising any officials for their response.

But he added: “We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020.”

“The COVID crisis has served as sort of a constitutional stress test,” he said during his address over a video link for the conservative organisation’s annual conference.

Alito, who was appointed by Republican President George W Bush in 2006, referred to restrictions on gatherings that had affected religious events.

“Think of worship services! Churches closed on Easter Sunday, synagogues closed for Passover in Yom Kippur,” he said.

“It pains me to say this,” Alito added, “but in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavoured right.”

The justice said freedom of speech was also under threat.

“Although that freedom is falling out of favour in some circles, we need to do whatever we can to prevent it from becoming a second-tier constitutional right,” he said.

Social norms had created a list of things that it was now unacceptable for students, professors and employees to say, he added.

“You can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman,” he added. “Until very recently that’s what a vast majority of Americans thought. Now it’s considered bigotry.”