Rabbis, Priests, and Parents Bring Fifth lawsuit against Gov. Cuomo’s Restrictions
Late last night, rabbis from multiple shuls, Roman Catholic priests, and parents who send their children to yeshivas and Catholic schools joined forces to sue Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the state of New York for what they see as excessive restrictions in the city’s red zones, those with COVID spikes, many of which are in largely Jewish neighborhoods, such as Brooklyn, Queens, Rockland County, and Orange County.
In at least the fifth lawsuit that has been brought against the March 7 executive order that restricted the maximum occupancy of houses of worship to 25% occupancy or a 10 person maximum, the religious leaders who brought the federal suit last night allege that Gov. Cuomo’s restrictions violate their Constitutional rights to free speech, to freely practice their religions, to freely assemble.
Wednesday night’s latest filing against Gov. Cuomo’s restrictions is an updated version of Soos v. Cuomo, which was a suit that was successfully brought against the governor last June, which was the last time that he restricted houses of worship to a 25% maximum occupancy, while at the same time approving of and allowing the many Black Lives Matter protests and other large gatherings that were being held across the state.
At a press conference in early June, Cuomo said, “I want to thank the protestors…I stand with the protestors on the point that we need meaningful reform.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who enforces the governor’s executive orders, spoke at one of the BLM protests in Brooklyn, and when we he later asked by a Hamodia reporter why he was allowing the protests but continuing to enforce the ban on religious gatherings and retail store openings, the mayor infamously said that “400 years of American racism…is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services.”
However, on June 26, Judge Gary Sharpe, of the Northern District in Albany, who heard Soos v. Cuomo in June ruled that the state’s restrictions created an unconstitutional infringement of religious freedom, especially in light of the ways in which the state allowed so many large protests at that time.
Judge Sharpe, who litigants have again asked to rule their updated case, then ruled houses of worship could expand to a 50% maximum occupancy, as long as participants followed social distancing requirements.
The updated Oct. 14 filing added many state and city officials as defendants in addition to the governor, such as Letitia James, the state’s attorney general, Mayor de Blasio, and the state and city health commissioners.
The plaintiffs also cast Gov. Cuomo’s restrictions as laced with anti-Semitism because they are mostly aimed areas with large frum populations, but Gov. Cuomo has said many times that he designated hotspot areas as zones that are called red, orange, or yellow based on the cold, hard facts of the levels of spiking COVID positivity rates.
Although Gov. Cuomo does call out other gatherings that have caused COVID outbreaks as a result of crowds in a bar, at a “Sweet 16” birthday party, a concert in the Hamptons, or a various other what he calls “episodic” mass gatherings, the governor, also, with alarmingly increasing frequency, to be going out of his way to rant about what he calls a small portion of “Ultra-Orthodox Jews,” whom he today claimed their failed to comply with health protocols since the very beginning of the pandemic, which actually was a time when frum Yidden scrambled to create creative solutions to continue to daven and learn Torah. For instance, when all the New York shuls and non-essential business were completely shut down for three months, many Jews davened alone on their porches, or outside in socially-distanced minyans. No one could travel for Pesach, and most Yidden hosted seders without guests or relatives. Many shiurim and simchas took place on Zoom, and schools put together online learning for students.
Despite the city and state’s many gaffes and inconsistencies with enforcing COVID health protocols among secular and the religious New Yorkers, last night, leading rabbeim and rebbes asked for a unified reaction of all Jews to abide by the protocols of health and governmental authorities, and to make themselves less visible and more cooperative.
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