Gov. Phil Murphy was challenged Wednesday by conservative Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson about the constitutionality of his emergency orders banning gatherings, including religious services.

The governor implemented the order last month in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In a more recent order, Murphy also closed state and county parks , a move that he made after he received numerous reports of people gathering in parks around the state, many from out-of-state.

Carlson questioned why liquor stores were allowed to remain open but parks were closed and religious gatherings essentially banned.

"We relied on a whole lot of input, reasonable input, from recovery coaches, addiction coaches and they cautioned us that if we were to shutter those stores down, we'd have unintended mental health and addiction prices to pay," Murphy said.

Carlson countered that attending a religious service can also be good for one's mental health and pointed out that 15 people were charged for attending a funeral in Lakewood.

"I've spoken to (Newark Archdiocese) Cardinal Tobin and to the leaders of the Jewish community, of the Muslim community. People are at peace where we have come out," Murphy said, adding that tax revenue did not play a role in his decision to allow the sale of liquor.

Religious congregations also have been holding virtual services over the internet.

"That's not denying someone their right to worship in any way. We have to find a different way to worship. I think that's the point," Murphy said.

Carlson said that the Bill of Rights guarantees the right to practice their religion as they see fit and to assemble peacefully.

"By what authority did you nullify the Bill of Rights in issuing this order? How do you have the power to do that?" Carlson asked.

"That's above my pay grade, Tucker, so I wasn't I wasn't thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this. First of all, we looked at the data and the science and it says people have to stay away from each other. That's the best thing we could do to break the back of the curve of this virus. That leads to lower hospitalizations and ultimately fatalities, Murphy said.

Carlson asked Murphy again how he has the right to order something that he said goes against the U.S. Constitution.

"Here's the thing. We know we need to stay away from each other, No. 1. No. 2, we do have broad authority within the state. And No. 3, we would never do that without coordinating, discussing and hashing it out without the variety of the leaders of the faiths of New Jersey," Murphy said.

Carlson asked if Murphy consulted an attorney.

"I don't go to the men's room without consulting an attorney, so I guarantee you we did that," Murphy said.

So far, Murphy's administration has faced few legal challenges to his emergency authority. A Second Amendment rights group filed a federal lawsuit after the state closed gun shops and turned off access to the background-check database but Murphy amended his order to allow gun shops to conduct business by appointment.

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Murphy said that the ramifications of his orders, including high unemployment and a potentially increased suicide and addiction rate, weigh heavily on him. The governor said he knows that had he not taken any action and let the virus runs its course, more than 3 million people would have been infected and the state's healthcare system would have been overwhelmed.

"As it relates to economic suffering, if it had been millions it would have been a lot worse. It would have been down the road. We chose to rip the Band-Aid off and deal with this up front and, God willing, we've made the right set of decisions," Murphy said.

Murphy has gotten some push-back from Republican lawmakers in the state.

State Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris, on Thursday called for a Senate Select Oversight Committee to review the administration's "over-reaching coronavirus policies."

“The people of New Jersey are anxious to get back to work and return to their normal lives. Public policy cannot be one size fits all, especially when it’s based on faulty and constantly changing data,” Pennacchio said in a written statement. “Demanding continued isolation until this virus ‘goes away’ is a flawed and dangerous approach.

Assemblyman Hal Wirts, R-Sussex, also criticized Murphy's orders and called for golf courses and car dealerships to be allowed to operate.

“On one-hand a lot of lives have been saved, but on the other many more lives are being destroyed," Wirths said in a written statement. “We just can’t afford to accept that the only way to keep people safe is by shutting down the economy for months. We have to put our heads together and come up with a strategy that allows people to work and make a living while simultaneously fighting the virus.”

State Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Warren, said Wednesday that Murphy's orders were "draconian" and a

“The cure is becoming much worse than the disease. The idea that churches will be shut down until July is unacceptable.  It’s outrageous that liquor stores are considered essential but church services are not," Doherty said.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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