Religious New Yorkers take fight against New York Gov. Cuomo to Supreme Court
BROOKLYN, New York, November 20, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Religious New Yorkers, both Catholics and Jews, are taking the fight against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s suppression of their right to exercise their religion to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On November 9, the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court, fighting Cuomo’s order to limit the number of people present in houses of worship at any given time to 10 to 25. Two Orthodox Jewish synagogues and their parent organization have now filed suit for the same reason.
In its application, the Diocese of Brooklyn stressed that the governor treats churches and other houses of worship much more harshly than commercial enterprises.
“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York respectfully requests a writ of injunction precluding enforcement of fixed-capacity limits imposed by Governor Cuomo on ‘houses of worship’ — and only ‘houses of worship’ — in designated geographic zones in New York, as applied to the Diocese’s churches,” the lawsuit states.
“The Governor’s latest restrictions cap church attendance at 10 and 25 people in so-called ‘red’ and ‘orange’ zones, respectively, regardless of the capacity of the ‘house of worship,’ and thereby effectively shutter all of the Diocese’s churches in those zones,” it continues.
“His Executive Order, moreover, expressly singles out ‘houses of worship’ by that name for adverse treatment relative to secular businesses, and does so in a way that is not narrowly tailored to any compelling government interest, in direct violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.”
The Diocese of Brooklyn argued that there has been no “COVID-19 spread” among its congregations since its churches were allowed to reopen and that thousands of its parishioners in Brooklyn and Queens have been deprived of their right to freely exercise their religion.
Meanwhile, businesses deemed “essential” by Governor Cuomo — including pet stores — have been allowed to stay open “without any capacity restrictions whatsoever” even in the red zones. In the orange zones, most non-essential businesses are allowed to open without capacity restrictions.
There are 1.5 million confessing Catholics within the geographical boundaries of the Diocese of Brooklyn, and the average weekly Mass attendance before the COVID shutdown was 230,000. Reflecting the multicultural population of the diocese, Mass is said in 33 different languages there.
In their lawsuit, Orthodox Jewish applicants Agudath Israel of America, Agudath Israel of Kew Garden Hills, Agudath Israel of Madison, Rabbi Yisorel Reisman of Agudath Israel of Madison, and Steven Saphirstein, the Secretary of Agudath Israel of Kew Garden Hills stressed remarks the governor has made targeting their community for suppression.
“The week of October 5, the governor instituted new restrictions designed to target the Orthodox Jewish community; those new rules are the heart of this case,” their lawsuit states.
“During an October 5 press conference, the governor stated that he planned to ‘meet with members of the ultra-Orthodox community tomorrow,’ threatening that ‘we’ll close the (religious) institutions down’ if ‘you do not agree to enforce the rules,’” it continues.
“He falsely claimed that the ‘ultra-Orthodox community’ was causing the ‘problem,’ (…) and described the COVID-19 cluster as ‘predominantly an ultra-orthodox cluster.’ (…) He continued to single out Orthodox Jews for over a week, stating that ‘(w)e’re now having issues in the Orthodox Jewish community in New York, where because of their religious practices, etc., we’re seeing a spread’ (…) and emphasizing that such restrictions are necessary because of “ultra-Orthodox communities, who are also very politically powerful.”
Moreover, the governor’s October 6 “Cluster Initiative,” which targets particular neighborhoods for “enhanced public health restrictions” and levies punitive fines, blatantly made the geographic area where Orthodox Jews live into a restricted zone, the lawsuit argues.
It also records that on October 9 Cuomo stated that “we have a couple of unique clusters, frankly, which are more religious organizations, and that’s what we’re targeting.”
“It is any wonder that religious New Yorkers are now seeking the shelter of the First Amendment?” a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorial asked in response.
The WSJ also raised a metaphorical eyebrow at the State of New York’s response to earlier objections that it discriminates against religious believers.
New York says that the capacity limits “are generally applicable and neutral.” Indoor religious gatherings, the filing adds, “commonly possess ‘problematic features’ from an epidemiological perspective,” such as lengthy congregating, mixing of different households, and talking, singing or chanting. The comparable secular activities, the state argues, include concerts and theatrical performances. The state claims it “would have been justified in prohibiting altogether gatherings in houses of worship located in red and orange zones.”
That is some statement.
The WSJ quoted Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s recent description of the COVID emergency as “a sort of constitutional stress test” and his remark that “in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.”
“Here’s a chance to readjust,” the WSJ declared. “Pet stores: open. Churches: closed. Those might be New York’s priorities, but they aren’t the Constitution’s.”