New York Officials Wrongly Limited Religious Services While Condoning Protests: Judge

June 26, 2020 Updated: June 26, 2020

Democratic officials in New York wrongly imposed harsh restrictions on religious gatherings even as they condoned mass gatherings, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The restrictions violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe said as he issued a preliminary injunction.

“The challenged regulations treat the class or subclass of people who exercise freedom of religion by gathering with others for that purpose, including plaintiffs, differently from the similarly situated class of people who gather with others for secular purposes, including the mass demonstrations defendants have exempted from their regulatory regime,” Sharpe, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote (pdf).

“Moreover, the class of those who gather for religious purposes in churches, chapels and synagogues is plainly less subject to the risk of infection or transmission than those engaged in mass demonstrations, commercial transactions involving crowded offices, large crowds every day of the week, physical exchanges, and common surfaces touched by potentially millions of people, which makes the suspect classification targeted by the challenged regulations even more irrational and invidious,” he added.

Under federal law, officials cannot impose harsher restrictions on religious gatherings than other gatherings.

Current regulations mandate houses of worship hold no more than 25 percent occupancy even as some stores are allowed to hold up to 50 percent capacity.

The regulations in question were issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March in a bid to slow the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

Bill de Blasio (1)
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at a food shelf organized by The Campaign Against Hunger in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn in New York City, on April 14, 2020. (Scott Heins/Getty Images)

New York Attorney General Letitia James and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio were also named as defendants.

All three are Democrats.

A Cuomo spokesman told The Epoch Times that they are reviewing the judge’s ruling.

De Blasio’s office declined to comment, referring The Epoch Times to the city’s Law Department. A spokesman for the department said in an email: “The city was following the governor’s executive order. We will review this new ruling and work with the State on next steps.”

A request for comment sent to James wasn’t returned.

Officials were challenged in a suit filed on behalf of two priests, Revs. Steven Soos and Nicholas Stamos, and three Orthodox Jews from New York City’s Brooklyn borough, Daniel Schonbrun, Elchanan Perr, and Mayer Mayerfeld.

Christopher Ferrara of Thomas More Society, which is representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement on the ruling, “We are pleased that Judge Sharpe was able to see through the sham of Governor Cuomo’s ‘Social Distancing Protocol’ which went right out the window as soon as he and Mayor de Blasio saw a mass protest movement they favored taking to the streets by the thousands.”

“Suddenly, the limit on ‘mass gatherings’ was no longer necessary to ‘save lives.’ Yet they were continuing to ban high school graduations and other outdoor gatherings exceeding a mere 25 people,” he added.

“This decision is an important step toward inhibiting the suddenly emerging trend of exercising absolute monarchy on pretext of public health. What this kind of regime really meant in practice is freedom for me, but not for thee.”

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