U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto issued a ruling on Friday after an emergency hearing in a lawsuit filed by rabbis and synagogues, arguing the restrictions were unconstitutional. They had sought to delay the execution at least after the Jewish holidays this weekend.
Rules limit indoor prayer services to 10 people in areas where the virus is spreading fastest. In other areas within hot spots, indoor religious services are capped at 25 people.
The restrictions apply in six designated areas in parts of New York, Rockland and Orange counties and in part of Binghamton. Non-essential businesses and schools have also been closed in some of these areas.
Ruling from the bench, the judge said the state has an interest in protecting public safety.
In their lawsuit, rabbis, synagogues leaders and the National Orthodox Jewish group Agudath Israel argued that Governor Andrew Cuomo was picking Jews amid the ongoing Sukkot and Simhat Torah festival this weekend, which marks the annual Torah reading cycle.
“This targeting of a religious minority on the eve of its holidays is reason enough to reject all the arguments of the defendants and allow the plaintiffs to celebrate their holidays this weekend as they have done for more than 2000 years”, argued the groups in a court case Friday.
Lawyers for the Democratic governor argued in court documents that he did not name the Orthodox Jewish community for negative treatment, but instead “clarified that this community would not receive special treatment.” And he argued that places of worship receive more favorable treatment than non-essential businesses in viral “red zones”.
“And a mass rally is no less dangerous just because it’s religious in nature,” Cuomo’s file read. “Further, ‘the right to freely practice religion does not include the freedom to expose the community. . . communicable diseases. ”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn has also filed a lawsuit challenging the restrictions. U.S. District Judge Eric Komitee on Friday denied the diocese’s petition for a temporary restraining order.
“We have no choice but, for the moment, to respect the new restrictions which limit the participation in the mass to 10 people in the red zones and to 25 in the orange zones”, declared Mgr Nicholas DiMarzo. in a press release. “But we will continue to fight to defend our fundamental constitutional rights, and we will continue to be a model of security in our religious community. ”
The legal battle over Cuomo’s COVID-19 restrictions is expected to continue for months. Faith groups say large churches and temples built to accommodate hundreds of people can surely safely handle more than 10 or 25 people at a time, with appropriate social distancing in place.
Agudah president Shlomo Werdiger expressed regret over the decision and called on Cuomo and other government officials to be more attentive to the community’s legitimate religious needs.
“We call on our elected officials and executive agencies to work with us to develop policies that both ensure good health and allow us to practice our faith. It shouldn’t be necessary to have to fight these things in court, ”he said.
Cuomo’s administration is also fighting a June federal court ruling that New York City cannot impose stricter limits on religious gatherings than businesses. Since then, places of worship and businesses statewide have a 50% capacity limit, although restaurants in New York City have a 25% limit.
That lawsuit was originally filed by conservative firm Thomas More, which expanded its action on Friday to indict Cuomo’s new hot spot plan condemning him to contempt of court.
New York has seen a steady increase in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations since early September.
The state has recorded 10,000 new infections in the past seven days, a level of spread not seen since May. An average of 698 COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized each day over the past week, up from 457 for the last week of August. At the height of the pandemic, nearly 19,000 New Yorkers were hospitalized.
Cuomo warns that much of the rise is due to hot spots in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City and in suburban counties, in addition to clusters tied to colleges and a Baptist church in upstate. New York.
Hundreds of Orthodox Jews gathered in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood several nights this week to protest the restrictions.