NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Orthodox Jewish groups and the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn filed lawsuits against Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state of New York over the new COVID-19 restrictions that restrict religious gatherings.
The lawsuit filed by Agudath Israel of America says Cuomo “has trampled” on Orthodox Jews' “constitutional right to the Free Exercise of Religion.”
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Brooklyn says Cuomo’s recent executive orders regarding the pandemic “left us with no other option than to go to court.”
“Our churches have the capacity to accommodate many worshippers and to reset our attendance capacity to 10 people maximum in the red zone, and 25 people in the orange zone, when we have had no significant cases, impedes our right to worship and cannot stand,” said Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn. “The State has completely disregarded the fact that our safety protocols have worked and it is an insult to once again penalize all those who have made the safe return to Church work.”
This week, Gov. Cuomo began labeling coronavirus hot spots with colors. In red zones, religious gatherings are limited to 25% capacity or just 10 people. In orange zones, they are limited to 33% or just 25 people.
Both the Orthodox Jewish and Catholic communities say the rules infringe upon their rights to practice their religion.
“This lawsuit is a last resort,” said Agudah’s Chairman of the Board Shlomo Werdiger. “We would have been able to accomplish much more for these critical public health needs had the governor’s administration worked together with us more closely beforehand. We look forward to working with them next time. Unfortunately, the Governor’s new executive order makes it impossible for us to practice our religion, and we really had no choice but to seek relief in the courts.”
Randy Mastro, the attorney representing the Diocese or Brooklyn, says the new rules will prevent many parishioners from attending Sunday Mass, “even though the Diocese has done everything right to ensure safe conditions in its churches.”
“We vehemently disagree with the capacity limits being placed on us. They are disrespectful to Catholics who have only been abiding by the rules. We do not agree with such limitations because they completely disregard the fact that our safety protocols have worked,” said DiMarzio.
The lawsuits were filed one day after protesters took to the streets in Borough Park to demand an end to the new restrictions in hot spot neighborhoods.
Many members of the Orthodox Jewish community took part in the protest and a reporter covering the event claimed he was attacked by some protesters.
Joseph Zwilling, Director of Communications of the Archdiocese of New York, released the following statement in response to the lawsuit.
“Catholic parishes throughout the Archdiocese of New York – indeed, throughout the entire State – have been able to safely and successfully re-open for Mass and the sacraments, thanks to careful planning, strict adherence to safety guidelines, and the full cooperation of our clergy, parishioners, and parish staffs. So it is unfair to arbitrarily close, even temporarily, churches which have been operating without a spike in coronavirus cases simply because other institutions have not yet been able to do so. The Diocese of Brooklyn’s lawsuit seeks to defend their First Amendment right to continue to safely worship and operate their parishes, and we support the Diocese of Brooklyn in their effort.”