Second Circuit Court Rules in Favor of Agudath Israel against Gov. Cuomo’s Shul Restrictions

Second Circuit Court Rules in Favor of Agudath Israel against Gov. Cuomo’s Shul Restrictions

By Yehudit Garmaise   

  The Second Circuit Court of Appeals just issued a ruling that declares Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order that restricted maximum attendance at houses of worship to “discriminate against religion on its face.”

    Late at night on Nov. 26, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an injunction that disallowed Gov. Cuomo’s 10 person/25% maximum capacity limitations in houses of worship, while allowing gatherings that were secular in nature.

   "While the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is not world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops, but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques,” U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Gorsuch wrote in explaining his support for Agudath Israel.

   Then, on Dec. 18, which was the last day of Chanukah, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals heard the appeal by Agudath Israel, whose lawyers wrote, “The [25% and 33% maximum] restrictions have eliminated the ability of many Jews to worship on important religious holy days, [as the restrictions took effect during Chol Hamoed Sukkos.]

    “None of this is necessary to protect public health.” 

   The court found that Gov. Cuomo’s order was not neutral towards religion, and in fact, impermissibly “devalues religious reasons” for congregating “by judging them to be of lesser import than nonreligious reasons.”

     The day after The U.S. Supreme Court Gov. barred the Gov. Cuomo’s restrictions, the governor responded that the ruling was “moot” because the red zone restrictions in Brooklyn and Queens have been lifted now that COVID positivity rates in those boroughs have significantly decreased.

  However, Agudath Israel said that the victory was not moot at all, but actually a huge victory for religious freedom because the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court set a precedent that will surely be followed in other cases.

   Although the governor said, “the red zone situation doesn’t exist anymore,” Mordechai Biser, an attorney for Agudath Israel told BoroPark24. "the legal principal that the state cannot enforce limits on attendance in houses of worship is important for future cases.

    “The fact that right now, there has been relaxation in certain areas doesn’t mean that two weeks from now those restrictions can’t be slapped back on again.”

   Avi Schick, who represents Agudath Israel in this case said, “this decision has important ramifications that go way beyond COVID restriction. 

   “It is a clear statement from the Second Circuit that government can’t disfavor religion merely because they see no value in it. I expect that this decision will stop future governments from imposing rules that restrict religion, and it also sets a standard that we can rely on in court in those instances when government does not heed that lesson.”

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