A federal judge has refused to block Governor Andrew Cuomo’s order limiting worship to just 10 worshipers in communities seeing spikes in coronavirus infections.
Ruling in a lawsuit brought by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis said in an order Friday that while the rules harm religious groups, it is not in the public interest to block if they help prevent a wave. new infections.
“In fact, if the court issues an injunction and the state is correct about the severity of the threat currently posed by red light districts, the result could be preventable death on a massive scale as New Yorkers have known in spring, ”Garaufis wrote.
The decision does not end the trial, but denied the church’s request for a temporary injunction.
Garaufis said it was conceivable the diocese could end up winning the case, but the worst that could happen to churches in the diocese in the meantime is that 26 of them would have to halt in-person ceremonies for several weeks.
“This is in no way to minimize the seriousness of this constitutional prejudice,” the judge said. But he said the potential to save lives outweighed the damage the church would suffer.
Cuomo announced on Oct. 6 that it was limiting attendance at places of worship, closing schools and shutting down non-essential businesses in six parts of New York, Binghamton and Rockland and Orange counties where COVID-infections. 19 have increased.
Most of the affected areas are home to large communities of Orthodox Jews, which has prompted protests from Jewish leaders who say they are being unfairly targeted.
Garaufis wrote in his ruling that it was clear that the state’s restrictions had been “guided by science, not a desire to target religious practice.”
The Brooklyn Diocese had argued that its congregations had not seen a sharp increase in coronavirus cases and that it had successfully implemented social distancing measures for church services, including placing communion wafers between the hands of the faithful rather than their tongue.
Despite this, the governor “continues to flout the diocese’s right to worship, without any basis – neither rational, nor narrowly tailored, just none,” church lawyers said in court documents filed Friday.
Similar lawsuits have been brought by Jewish groups.
In their documents, state attorneys said that in the state’s so-called “red zones”, just under 5% of all people who have tested for COVID-19 have tested positive, against nearly 8% at the end of September. They said it shows the restrictions are working, but things haven’t improved enough to lift the restrictions.
State attorneys also noted that the rules allowed places of worship to remain open, while non-essential businesses in “red zone” areas were to close entirely.
“This response respects the rights of worshipers while limiting the spread of the virus and protecting public health from this deadly disease,” Deputy Attorney General Seth Farber said in a Friday filing.
The Cuomo administration has not said exactly when the restrictions could be lifted, but the initial plan was to put them in place for at least two weeks.
A group of Orthodox priests and worshipers filed a lawsuit in another federal court in June over Cuomo’s previous limits on religious gatherings, and a judge ruled that New York City could not have stricter limits for places of worship than non-essential businesses.
The group is now in court claiming that Cuomo’s new cluster area plan violates that court order. On Friday, a federal judge gave Cuomo and New York City until October 20 to respond.