Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is urging Attorney General William Barr to watch for state and local officials who may be engaging in discrimination against faith-based groups amid the pandemic.
This comes in the wake of comments made by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in a Twitter post, where he appeared to threaten the “Jewish community” with “summons or even arrest” after hundreds of Orthodox Jews gathered together to mourn the passing of Rabbi Chaim Mertz, a respected religious leader in their community.
In a letter to Barr on Thursday, Cruz highlighted the incident as an example of local officials who are allegedly targeting and discriminating against people of faith while imposing restrictions to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“This is dangerous in and of itself,” Cruz wrote in his letter. “But it is especially dangerous to single out the Jewish community in a city that is experiencing a substantial rise in violent antisemitism.”
He alleged that de Blasio’s actions had singled out the Jewish community for special burdens because he had treated other large group gatherings and anticipated gatherings in a different manner.
“The fact that the Mayor made this threat mere days after tweeting in support of a program that would bring ‘hundreds of thousands [of meals] to the 32 sites most frequented by our Muslim communities’ and attending large gatherings with health care workers without protective equipment suggests that the Jewish community is being singled out for special burdens,” he wrote.
Last week, de Blasio announced that the city plans to distribute half a million Halal meals during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan at 32 Department of Education buildings. He also posed for photos with a large group of health care workers without wearing a mask or any face coverings.
“The Department of Justice should not hesitate to closely monitor New York City to ensure that the Mayor’s rhetoric does not translate into constitutional violations,” the senator wrote.
Cruz, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on The Constitution, also extolled the attorney general for his April 17 memo where he directed federal prosecutors to watch out for lockdown measures aimed at controlling the spread of the CCP virus that may be infringing on constitutional rights.
The attorney general said in the memo that state and local restrictions could be running afoul of constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens and in that event, the Justice Department (DOJ) “may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court.”
De Blasio’s press office did not immediately respond to The Epoch Times’ request to comment on the letter.
In a statement to the Associated Press, de Blasio’s press secretary, Freddi Goldstein, said the mayor “has apologized to anyone he offended by his word choice. That was certainly not his intention,” while adding that he “cannot stand idly by if there are gatherings that pose a risk to New Yorkers’ health and safety.”
The mayor received backlash earlier this week from Jewish leaders and organizations after he chastised members of the Jewish community who participated in Mertz’s funeral. Videos and photos from the event show a vast majority of people who were in attendance were wearing masks but did not appear to follow social distancing guidelines as mandated by the city.
Following the incident, de Blasio issued a series of social media posts to criticize the participants of the funeral, calling it “absolutely unacceptable.”
“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period,” he said.
“We have lost so many these last two months + I understand the instinct to gather to mourn. But large gatherings will only lead to more deaths + more families in mourning. We will not allow this. I have instructed the NYPD to have one standard for this whole city: zero tolerance,” he added.
The mayor subsequently issued an apology for his comments, saying that they were spoken “out of passion.”
“I regret if the way I said it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way. That was not my intention. It was said with love, but it was tough love,” de Blasio said.
But he added that he had “no regrets about calling out this danger and saying we’re going to deal with it very, very aggressively.”
More than 100 Jewish leaders, elected officials, and organizations sent de Blasio a public letter on Thursday to express opposition to the mayor’s comments and to relay their “anger and disappointment at your scapegoating the Jewish community.”
“This singling out is especially potent because it aligns with longstanding antisemitic tropes that have, for millenia (sic), blamed Jews for societal ills,” the letter read. “Laying blame upon Hasidic communities—among the most visible members of our Jewish family—will not stop the spread of COVID-19, and referring to these particular communities as ‘the Jewish community’ both flattens a diverse group of New Yorkers into a single bloc and fuels the anti-Semitic hatreds that bubble beneath the surface of our society.”
Cruz has previously called out de Blasio for restricting faith gatherings during the outbreak. The mayor said they would shut down any religious services that violate the city’s social distancing orders, while threatening fines and permanent closures for houses of worship that do not comply.
“These are flagrant abuses of power. While cities have the authority to prevent large gatherings during a pandemic, they can’t permanently ban faith communities,” Cruz wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Post earlier this month.
The debate between protecting civil liberties and public health has flared in recent weeks as Americans begin expressing frustration with restrictions. Many of the state and local measures have caused Americans to lose their jobs, while plunging their states into a deep economic slump. Some have taken the streets to protest the restrictions.
Meanwhile, multiple court challenges have been filed against governors over their executive orders that impose a variety of bans that are seen as an assault on civil liberties and individual rights, including cases over religious discrimination where drive-in services were banned in multiple cities across the country.
The DOJ recently by filing a statement of claim in support of a Mississippi church that appeared to be singled out by a local mayor’s order against drive-in services.
“Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers,” Barr said at the time.
The Justice Department told The Epoch Times they had received the letter.