NY Gov Cuomo blames ‘religious groups’ for uptick of COVID cases, singles out ‘ultra- orthodox’ community
Appearing on CNN, Cuomo proclaimed that religious liberty must be subject to the laws of the state. “This is not a matter of religious freedom, right? I don’t care if you’re a Roman Catholic, you’re Jewish, you’re Muslim, you’re an atheist, you have to follow the rules of the state, the laws of the state,” he said.
The governor blamed religious communities for a rise in COVID cases, declaring, “They are not following the rules. We know what happens when you don’t follow the rules: the infection rate goes up.” He especially targeted an “ultra-orthodox” community for what he called a “cluster” of new cases.
New restrictions coming into force this week divide the city into red, orange and yellow zones. In red zones, places of worship are arbitrarily limited to “25 percent capacity, up to a maximum of 10 people, whichever is fewer.” Orange zones permit 33 percent capacity, or 25 people, “whichever is fewer,” with yellow zones allowing 50 percent capacity in places of worship.
Cuomo has decreed that places of religious worship will be fined $15,000 if they act in violation of the new rules.
His latest embargoes on religious communities are being strongly challenged by both Orthodox Jews and Roman Catholics.
The group of Jewish communities are suing Cuomo since his restrictions will render it “impossible for Orthodox Jews to conduct services” and thus violate their constitutional rights to freely exercise their religion.
This Friday marks the start of three consecutive religious holidays for the Jewish community. The consequent effect of the restrictions, at this time particularly, will thus “disrupt the religious observance of tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews in New York State, depriving them of their religious worship and holiday observance.”
The legal document states that the governor’s “explicit targeting of religious institutions and communities for these restrictions is a punitive attempt to infringe upon Plaintiffs’ religious services because of their religious nature.”
The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn has also filed its own lawsuit on the basis of First Amendment violations. In a statement issued with the lawsuit, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said, “The executive orders this week have left us with no other option than to go to court.”
The bishop continued, “The State has completely disregarded the fact that our safety protocols have worked and it is an insult to once again penalize all those who have made the safe return to Church work.”
The diocese’s document outlines the shortcomings in the numbers allowed in churches according to the new laws, stating, “All of the Diocese’s 13 churches in the red zone, and all but one of the Diocese’s 11 churches in the orange zone can accommodate 500 or more people, with the remaining church seating 200.”
Both lawsuits mention the double standards seemingly applied to religious communities and businesses in the red zone. The Diocese of Brooklyn’s document mentions that “all ‘essential’ businesses – a broad category that includes everything from grocery stores to banks to pet shops – remain open without capacity limitations.” The Jewish communities’ document further mentions that essential gatherings are permitted, yet “(n)o definition of essential gatherings has ever been provided.”
Regarding the orange zone, the legal papers present similar evidence of unequal treatment of religious communities. The Brooklyn diocese points out that only certain high-risk businesses are closed, and restaurants are permitted to remain open with “no overarching capacity limit.”
Even in the yellow zone, places of worship are restricted to 50 percent capacity while “all businesses, including restaurants for indoor and outdoor dining service, and schools” are permitted to remain open “without any specified capacity limitation.”
The Diocese of Brooklyn noted that Cuomo was well aware his rules would have the greatest effect upon religious communities. However, despite such action needing to satisfy meticulous scrutiny, “The Governor’s action here cannot come close to satisfying this strict scrutiny, especially as applied to the Diocese,” it said.