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Judges Reject Jewish, Catholic Group Challenges to New NY Coronavirus Restrictions

October 10, 2020
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A federal judge has approved the implementation of restrictions on religious gatherings in designated coronavirus hotspots in New York, citing the urgency of preventing the spread of the illness.

Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced a series of restrictions on large gatherings in areas with coronavirus clusters. Those restrictions ban gatherings of more than ten people in houses of worship, entirely forbid mass gatherings, and shutter non-essential businesses while allowing restaurants to operate on a takeout-only basis.

New York has seen a coronavirus resurgence in areas containing large populations of orthodox Jews, including parts of Rockland and Orange Counties and several neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. (Another cluster has appeared in Broome County, west of the Catskill Mountains.) Agudath Israel, an ultra-orthodox Jewish advocacy group, sued the state of New York arguing that the restrictions constituted religious discrimination.

However, Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto of the Eastern District Court in Brooklyn said in a Friday ruling that the new restrictions were not discriminatory and were justified in light of new coronavirus outbreaks.

“How can we ignore the compelling state interest in protecting the health and life of all New Yorkers?” Matsumoto said.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn brought its own lawsuit against the restrictions, which was also defeated on Friday in a ruling by Judge Eric Komitee of the Eastern District Court.

Governor Cuomo “made remarkably clear that this [executive] order was intended to target a different set of religious institutions,” namely ultra-Orthodox religious gatherings, Komitee wrote in his ruling. The Brooklyn Diocese “appears to have been swept up in that effort having been mostly spared, so far at least, from the problem at hand.”

Both Agudath Israel and Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio have vowed to appeal the rulings and called on residents to obey health guidelines to prevent coronavirus spread.

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