Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is threatening to shut down synagogues that do not comply with coronavirus restrictions.
“I have to say to the Orthodox community tomorrow, ‘If you’re not willing to live with these rules, then I’m going to close the synagogue,'” Cuomo said during a media conference Monday.
In New York City, zip codes with large Orthodox Jewish populations have been experiencing a rise in coronavirus cases, according to The Associated Press.
Additionally, Cuomo said during the media conference that he is ordering schools to close in zip codes that are hotspots as a way to prevent the spread.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “I have to say to the Orthodox community tomorrow, ‘If you’re not willing to live with these rules, then I’m going to close the synagogues.'” pic.twitter.com/QWOPvZMbFI
— The Hill (@thehill) October 5, 2020
Places of worship have been ordered to close or enforce strict guidelines throughout the country since in March.
Cuomo and Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have made headlines several times for their specific targeting of Orthodox Jews.
De Blasio came under fire for a tweet in April where he threatened members of the Jewish community with arrest. That specific tweet came in response to a Jewish funeral which the mayor condemned and ordered to be shut down.
My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 29, 2020
The Orthodox community has fought back from time to time, most notably when people used bolt cutters to reopen a park that New York City had closed.
— Satmar Headquarters (@HQSatmar) June 15, 2020
Historically speaking, New York has always tried to maintain a close relationship with its Jewish community, but feelings have certainly soured during the pandemic.
Although it is important for densely populated areas to have guidelines for public health, threatening to shut down places of worship is an unconstitutional attack on religious liberty.
Whether de Blasio and Cuomo like it or not, there is no exception in the First Amendment that allows freedom of expression to be revoked during a public health crisis.
Millions of Americans protested the death of George Floyd in massive crowds earlier this summer with little criticism from local government officials. With all due respect, places of worship should be held to the same standard, as both protesting and religious activities are protected under the First Amendment.
The concern about a surge in cases is reasonable, but it is dangerous to call out a specific religious group for the spread of the virus.
Orthodox Jews are already major targets for anti-Semitic crimes, and putting coronavirus-related scrutiny on them will only make things worse.
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