The faith community in New York is fighting back against Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) for his continued effort to restrict religious services during the coronavirus pandemic despite a federal judge telling him not to.
The Thomas More Society filed an Emergency Amended Complaint and Motion for Temporary Restraining Order on Friday, in the US District Court for the Northern District of New York on behalf of and two Catholic priests, two Catholic school students, and four Orthodox Jewish individuals.
This comes after Cuomo issued a warning on Oct. 5 that the state could shut down religious institutions that are not adhering to the restrictions on mass gatherings during the pandemic.
The governor asserts that his measures aim to prevent the spread of COVID-19, while at the same time he permits mass protests.
Senior US District Judge Gary Sharpe advised Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in June that they cannot limit worship services to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while condoning mass protests.
Last week the governor issued a new policy called the “Cluster Action Initiative” where further restrictions were placed on houses of worship in specific color zones – matching where the virus has spread the fastest.
That action led to the closure of churches, synagogues, and religious schools throughout newly-created red, orange, and yellow zones in New York City.
The most inhibited red zones target houses of worship and restrict religious gatherings up to 25 percent capacity, but limit that number to a maximum of ten people.
Orange zones limit houses of worship to 33 percent capacity but no more than 25 people and yellow zones restrict houses of worship to 50 percent capacity.
At the same time, “essential businesses” in each zone, including retail shops, manufacturing facilities, and airplane travel are exempt.
“The governor’s new ‘Cluster Action Initiative’ is a completely arbitrary and astounding abuse of power, just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse,” said Thomas More Society Special Counsel Christopher Ferrara.
“It is a blatant violation of our clients’ right to the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment, including their right to be free from such explicit and brazen religious discrimination.”
The Thomas More Society, who has been fighting against New York’s anti-religious restrictions from the start, revealed in their latest complaint that Gov. Cuomo is discriminating against religious gatherings – referencing them as the cause for his new conditions.
At a recent press conference, Cuomo referred to religious institutions as problematic and that their gatherings are “super-spreaders.”
“We know religious institutions have been a problem,” he said. “We know mass gatherings are a super-spreader event. We know there have been mass gatherings going on in concert with religious institutions in these communities for weeks. I don’t mean little violations – you’re only supposed to have 50, they had 55. I’m talking about you’re only supposed to have 50 outdoors, they had 1,000.”
In his October 6 press conference, Cuomo admitted the new system “is most impactful on houses of worship,” and any impact on secular businesses is “not what this is about.”
Ferrara added, “The governor’s closure of Catholic and Jewish schools in these zones is absurd. It is the very antithesis of a narrowly tailored restriction on religion and expression, which is what the Constitution requires given the role of religious schools in handing on their respective faiths to children.
“Cuomo claims this will last for only 14 days, but we saw how that worked the last time he got on his emperor’s throne and began tossing endless mandates,” he concluded.