(PoliticalLookout.com)- Leaders of New York religious institutions have recently filed lawsuits against high-ranking state government officials over what they say are a violation of their civil rights.
The suits were brought by three Orthodox Jewish congregants in Brooklyn and two Catholic priests in Upstate New York. They were levied against Governor Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The federal lawsuits, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, say the three officials have violated the plaintiffs’ rights to freedom of speech, assembly and expressive association, and free exercise of religion under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The plaintiffs also accused Cuomo of acting against the laws of the state and the state Constitution.
The plaintiffs believe they are being treated unfairly as the governor’s and mayor’s orders are prejudicial against religious institutions, which are facing selective enforcement.
Special Counsel Christopher Ferrara, of the Thomas Moore Society, laid out the plaintiffs’ claims by saying:
“These orders, both the emergency stay-home and reopening plan declarations, clearly discriminate against houses of worship. They are illegally content based, elaborate, arbitrary and pseudo-scientific. The governor and his agents, along with New York City’s mayor, have employed favoritism and political platforms against people of faith.
“Why is a large worship gathering deemed more dangerous than a mass protest, full of shouting, arm-waving people in close proximity to one another?”
That last point will be the one that will seemingly be the most contentious in court. At the same time that limits have been placed on religious services — with some banned outright — protests with large numbers of people have been allowed to rage on. In fact, de Blasio even attended a protest on June 4 and wasn’t wearing a mask — even as he addressed people at a political gathering at the city’s Cadman Plaza.
Both de Blasio and Cuomo have proscribed a 10-person limit as well as social distancing measures for “non-essential gatherings.” But neither of those edicts have been followed at the protests.
A few days after the protest on June 4, a police officer kicked a group of Hasidic Jewish children out of a park in Williamsburg for violating that 10-person limit on “non-essential gatherings.” And a few months ago, de Blasio threatened the Jewish community in the city for their “illegal” mass gatherings.
What’s more, theaters in New York City that are still to remain closed because the state hasn’t entered “Phase Four” of the governor’s reopening plan have recently opened so protesters could use the restrooms, use Wifi and enjoy refreshments.
In addition, the lawsuits are pointing to Cuomo’s orders on June 5 that relaxed social distancing measures, but restricted religious gatherings to a capacity of 25%. The plaintiffs say this is a move that restricted religion when it didn’t do so to other areas of life.
As Ferrara said:
“It is time to end New York’s experiment in absolute monarchy. We are asking the court to put an end to these unconstitutional executive orders and their prejudicial enforcement.”