CNA Staff, Oct 12, 2020 / 12:01 pm
Two federal judges on Friday declined to block new restrictions on public worship in New York City, which both Catholic and Jewish leaders in the city had challenged in court.
The restrictions by Gov. Andrew Cuomo cap indoor religious services in Brooklyn and Queens at 10 people in the areas deemed most seriously affected by the coronavirus, and at 25 people depending on the density of virus cases or their proximity to a cluster. Gatherings in violation of the order could result in sponsors being fined $15,000.
The Diocese of Brooklyn sued Oct. 8 against Cuomo’s restrictions, which it said violated the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment. A group of Jewish rabbis and synagogues had also sued, seeking to delay the new restrictions’ enforcement until after last weekend’s Sukkot celebrations.
The diocese alleged that Cuomo’s new health restrictions “arbitrarily reduce capacity” at churches which worked with public health officials earlier in the summer to reopen safely after the initial wave of the virus.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said Oct. 5 that Catholic churches in Brooklyn and Queens have not had “any COVID outbreaks or significant cases” since reopening July 5 at 25% capacity. The diocese has mandated face masks use and directed its over 200 churches to adhere to social distancing protocols.
Despite the diocese’ lawsuit, District Judge Eric Komitee ruled Oct. 9 that “the government is afforded wide latitude in managing the spread of deadly diseases” under Supreme Court precedent, and denied that the health order singled out houses of worship.
“There are entities treated better than religious institutions in the ‘red zone’ — namely, entities
deemed ‘Essential Businesses’ — but other entities treated more restrictively, such as restaurants and even schools, which are closed entirely (for in-person activities),” Komitee wrote.
Similarly, Judge Kiyo Matsumoto of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn ruled in the case brought by Jewish leaders that Cuomo’s order does not unconstitutionally target religious exercise.