News & Politics

Federal Judge Slaps Down NY Restrictions on Religious Gatherings After Cuomo and de Blasio Endorse BLM Protests

Federal Judge Slaps Down NY Restrictions on Religious Gatherings After Cuomo and de Blasio Endorse BLM Protests
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

In an ironic twist of fate, both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ended up in hot water with a federal judge after endorsing the Black Lives Matter protests while at the same time breaking up religious gatherings and threatening churches and synagogues with closures due to the Chinese COVID-19 pandemic. Hypocrisy, it seems, doesn’t play well in a court of law.

The Thomas More Society put out a press release trumpeting an injunction by U.S. District Judge Gary L. Sharpe against the restrictions on religious gatherings in New York. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have only themselves and their pandering idiocy to blame.

How are religious gatherings different from BLM protests? (Fewer fires, for one.)

“Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio could have just as easily discouraged protests, short of condemning their message, in the name of public health and exercised discretion to suspend enforcement for public safety reasons instead of encouraging what they knew was a flagrant disregard of the outdoor limits and social distancing rules,” wrote Sharpe. “They could have also been silent. But by acting as they did, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio sent a clear message that mass protests are deserving of preferential treatment.”

Judge Sharpe doesn’t suffer fools easily. And the two New York fools—with their insistence on virtue-signaling to one group and showing obvious bias and prejudicial treatment while locking Hasidic Jews out of their playgrounds and threatening them with arrests and closures— completely tanked their case. Not only did they show preferential treatment to BLM protests but they also tried to impose restrictions on churches and synagogues that they did not impose on graduations or on “non-essential” businesses.

Sharpe’s order noted that, “it is not the judiciary’s role to second guess the likes of Governor Cuomo or Mayor de Blasio when it comes to decisions they make in such troubling times, that is, until those decisions result in the curtailment of fundamental rights without compelling justification.”

In awarding the injunction, the court noted that “nonessential businesses” that enjoy a 50% capacity limitation are not justifiably different than houses of worship.

Sharpe remarked that offices, retails stores, salons, and restaurants – all now permitted to open at 50% capacity indoors – all involve the congregation of people for a length of time. He stated, “These secular businesses/activities threaten defendants’ interest in slowing the spread of COVID-19 to a similar or greater degree than those of plaintiffs’, and demonstrate that the 25% indoor capacity limitation on houses of worship is underinclusive and triggers strict scrutiny review.”

The judge pointed out, “Another case of individualized exemption seems even more obvious.” Governor Cuomo has now specifically authorized outdoor, in-person graduation ceremonies of no more than 150 people. This is an express exemption from the ten- or twenty-five-person outdoor limits that apply to other situations. Yet, “There is nothing materially different about a graduation ceremony and a religious gathering such that defendants’ justifications for a difference in treatment can be found compelling.”

Federal judges get eloquent when they’re angry

Sharpe turned on the literary fireworks, writing that Cuomo and de Blasio’s contradictory positions on protests versus religious gatherings “clearly undermine the legitimacy” of the argument put forth by the state that it was all in the name of public safety. Ha! 

The injunction stops the state from being able to enforce arbitrary rules on religious organizations that it does not also require of non-essential businesses. Houses of worship, while still not “essential” in New York, now must be included in the phased-in reopening and not subjected to malicious over-policing and separate rules that only affect them.

As a result of the federal order, Governor Cuomo, Attorney General James, and Mayor de Blasio are “enjoined and restrained from enforcing any indoor gathering limitations” against the involved houses of worship “greater than imposed for Phase 2 industries,” provided that participants follow the prescribed social distancing. They are also forbidden from “enforcing any limitation for outdoor gatherings provided that participants in such gatherings follow social distancing requirements as set forth in the applicable executive orders and guidance.”

The injunction was filed on behalf of two Catholic priests and three Orthodox Jewish congregants

The federal lawsuit, filed June 10, 2020, in United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, charged the governor, attorney general, and mayor with violating the plaintiffs’ rights to free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, assembly and expressive association, and due process, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Governor Cuomo was also accused of violating New York state law and the New York State Constitution.

Thomas More Society Special Counsel Christopher Ferrara explained the lawsuit to protect religious freedom

In an unprecedented abuse of power, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to create, over the past three months, a veritable dictatorship by means of a complex web of executive orders. The orders have imposed and selectively enforced ‘social distancing’ under a ‘lockdown’ of virtually every aspect of life for New York state residents on the pretext of ‘public health,’ but with numerous exceptions. The permissible activities, not based on the science of viral contagion, but rather determined according to personal value judgments, have included mass demonstrations of thousands of people – gatherings of which the governor and mayor have approved and the mayor participated in. Cuomo and de Blasio, along with James, have enforced the gubernatorial ‘lockdown’ by threat of criminal prosecution and actual prosecution, including $1,000 fines for the recently created offense of violating Cuomo’s ‘Social Distancing Protocol

These mass protest gatherings, taking place during the COVID-19 stay-at-home lockdown orders, have been not only allowed but praised by both the governor of New York and mayor of New York City, even though massive property damage and death have resulted. This, when the government’s primary purpose is to protect the people it governs.

This is a big win and the precedent it will set is an important one for any other state whose citizens’ rights are being trampled. Before the Democrats endorsed mass protests, the lawsuits may have been harder. But now that they’ve done that, and did not act to stop the public from being beaten, robbed, and terrorized while public property burned, they have no platform to stand on, even if it is swathed in exquisite banners embroidered with the phrase “public safety.”

Get the popcorn. This is just the beginning of the fun that is about to happen as these lawsuits work their way around the country.

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