Appeals court blocks N.Y. governor’s assault on religious institutions

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REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

A New York court has shut down Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-fueled attack on religious gatherings by free Americans.

The federal appeals court in Manhattan on Dec. 28 struck down Cuomo’s executive order that arbitrarily limited attendance at houses of worship because it “discriminates against religion on its face.”

The three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit sided unanimously with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, the Orthodox Jewish group Agudath Israel of America and two synagogues who had filed suit against Cuomo over the Oct. 6 attendance limitations.

“The restrictions challenged here specially and disproportionately burden religious exercise,” and violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, wrote Circuit Judge Michael Park in the ruling.

“We conclude that [Cuomo’s] Order discriminates against religion on its face.”

The governor had used the excuse of virus transmission to crack down on religious gatherings and limit attendance to fewer than 10 people or 25 percent capacity in zones where the risk of COVID-19 was highest, and to 25 people or 33 percent capacity in zones deemed slightly less risky.

The plaintiffs contended that the limits violated their religious rights, causing “irreparable harm,” and unfairly targeted religious institutions while businesses arbitrarily deemed “essential” were allowed to operate unfettered. The court agreed.

Park, an appointee of President Trump, noted that: “No public interest is served by maintaining an unconstitutional policy when constitutional alternatives are available to achieve the same goal.”

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