A federal appeals court on Monday blocked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on religious gatherings, saying the restrictions “are not narrowly tailored to stem the spread of Covid-19.”
The decision comes after the US Supreme Court ruled in November that Jewish and Catholic houses of worship faced “far more restrictive” Covid-19 regulations than businesses. The appeals court? ruling addressed per person limits on houses of worship, saying the state must justify imposing 10- or 25-person limits on houses of worship but not on certain secular businesses.
In court papers, lawyers for the Democratic governor said that the restrictions were necessary to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and that houses of worship weren’t being treated differently than similar secular businesses. They also said that while the dispute was pending, Cuomo had already lifted any restrictions that applied to the organizations.
Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Monday’s ruling, by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, said the appellants, which include the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Agudath Israel of America, established in their case “irreparable harm” caused by the per person capacity limits. The decision also asks a lower court to reverse an earlier ruling and prohibit Cuomo from enforcing the order’s 10- and 25-person capacity limits.
Randy Mastro, an attorney for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said in a statement to CNN that the diocese was gratified by the decision, saying Cuomo’s restrictions went “too far in restricting the free exercise of religion.”
“Our client, the Diocese of Brooklyn, is pleased to be able to continue to welcome parishioners to Mass, and will continue to do so under strict protocols, like mask wearing and social distancing, that keep them safe,” Mastro said.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, praised the ruling. “The courts have clearly recognized that the restrictions imposed by New York State violate the constitutional rights of those seeking to attend religious worship services,” Zwiebel said in a statement.