A federal judge on Friday blocked Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other New York leaders from prohibiting outdoor religious gatherings due to the coronavirus after officials endorsed mass protests.
Judge Gary Sharpe issued a preliminary injunction against Cuomo, Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Attorney General Letitia James forbidding virus-related restrictions on outdoor religious services.
Sharpe’s ruling said the regulations resulted in the “curtailment of fundamental rights without compelling justification,” especially amid leaders’ support for outdoor protests.
The Thomas More Society, which specializes in religious freedom cases, filed the initial lawsuit against the New York officials on June 12.
“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,” The Thomas More Society wrote in a news release on Friday.
“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,” the news release continued.
“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.”
“Protest. Just be smart about it,” Cuomo said during a June 1 news conference.
“With this virus, you can do many things now as long as you’re smart about it, right? You can reopen, you can go into a store and you can do a lot of things, just be smart.”
Cuomo did not apply the same logic to religious services, according to the injunction, as Executive Order 202.10 forbade religious gatherings despite being smaller than most protests.
Cuomo’s order stated that “all nonessential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reasons (e.g. worship services, parties, celebrations or other social events) are canceled or postponed,” and that “individuals should not gather in houses of worship, homes, or other locations for religious services until the end of this public health emergency.”
Sharpe called this dichotomy “preferential treatment.”
“Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio could have just as easily discouraged protests, short of condemning their message, in the name of public health and exercised discretion to suspend enforcement for public safety reasons instead of encouraging what they knew was a flagrant disregard of the outdoor limits and social distancing rules,” Sharpe wrote.
“They could have also been silent. But by acting as they did, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio sent a clear message that mass protests are deserving of preferential treatment.”
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