Federal Court Prohibits Cuomo From Restricting Shul Capacity & Banning Outdoor Worship After He Condoned Protests

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Jake Dima (DCNF) / TJV News

A federal judge on Friday blocked Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other New York leaders from prohibiting outdoor religious gathering  & limiting indoor capacity to 25%  due to the coronavirus after officials endorsed mass protests.

Specifically, the judge ordered that the current limitations on houses of worship, which in Phase 2 areas limits indoor attendance to 25% of capacity, be changed to 50% of capacity, equal to the limits on allowed businesses. The judge also barred all restrictions on outdoor gatherings. In both cases proper social distancing must still be followed, TVJ reported.

Judge Gary Sharpe issued a preliminary injunction against Cuomo, Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Attorney General Letitia James forbidding coronavirus-based regulations on outdoor religious ceremonies.

Sharpe’s ruling said the regulations resulted in the “curtailment of fundamental rights without compelling justification,” especially amid leaders’ support for outdoor protests.

The Thomas More Society, which specializes in religious freedom cases, filed the initial lawsuit against the New York leaders June 12.

Agudah Israel reported:

The plaintiffs, two Catholic priests and three Orthodox Jews, claimed that the state’s executive orders were a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution, among other claims, because the restrictions treated houses of worship differently than non-religious businesses. Moreover, the state and the city stopped religious gatherings while both the Governor and the Mayor encouraged, and the Mayor even participated in, outdoor protest demonstrations. State law also explicitly allowed outdoor graduation ceremonies.

The court felt that the executive orders were riddled with contradictions and placed constitutionally protected religious practice on a lesser plane than other practices with similar risk factors. Thus, as the court put it, “it is not the judiciary’s role to second guess the likes of Governor Cuomo or Mayor de Blasio when it comes to decisions they make in such troubling times, that is, until those decisions result in the curtailment of fundamental rights without compelling justification.”

“We are pleased that Judge Sharpe was able to see through the sham of Governor Cuomo’s ‘Social Distancing Protocol’ which went right out the window as soon as he and Mayor de Blasio saw a mass protest movement they favored taking to the streets by the thousands,” The Thomas More Society wrote in a press release Friday. “Suddenly, the limit on ‘mass gatherings’ was no longer necessary to ‘save lives.’”

“Yet they were continuing to ban high school graduations and other outdoor gatherings exceeding a mere 25 people,” the organization continued. “This decision is an important step toward inhibiting the suddenly emerging trend of exercising absolute monarchy on pretext of public health.  What this kind of regime really meant in practice is freedom for me, but not for thee.”

“Protest. Just be smart about it,” Cuomo said during a June 1 press conference, according to order. “With this virus, you can do many things now as long as you’re smart about it, right? You can reopen, you can go into a store and you can do a lot of things, just be smart.”

Cuomo did not apply the same logic to religious ceremonies, according to the injunction, as Executive Order 202.10 forbade religious gatherings, despite being smaller than most Floyd protests.

Cuomo’s order stated that “all nonessential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reasons (e.g. worship services, parties, celebrations or other social events) are canceled or postponed, and that “individuals should not gather in houses of worship, homes, or other locations for religious services until the end of this public health emergency.”

Sharpe called this dichotomy “preferential treatment.”

“Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio could have just as easily discouraged protests, short of condemning their message, in the name of public health and exercised discretion to suspend enforcement for public safety reasons instead of encouraging what they knew was a flagrant disregard of the outdoor limits and social distancing rules,” Sharpe wrote.

“They could have also been silent. But by acting as they did, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio sent a clear message that mass protests are deserving of preferential treatment.”

As Agudath Israel put in its June 12 statement, “Governmental power has also been used as a sword against religion, instead of the shield the Founding Fathers intended it to be.”
With this victory in hand, Agudath Israel intends to press forward to protect religious rights such as religious education and religious summer camps. While Agudath Israel reminds its constituents to continue to prioritize safety, we must also zealously and unapologetically safeguard our way of life.

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