A federal court judge on Friday issued a preliminary injunction against attendance restrictions imposed on religious gatherings in New York state.
Judge Gary Sharpe’s order affects the limits that both governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio placed upon religious gatherings in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Both officials had issued orders and guidance limiting in-person religious worship to ten or fewer persons. A coalition of Catholic and Jewish leaders filed suit, claiming that the limitations prevent them from fulfilling essential requirements and duties of their faiths.
The judge’s decision noted that the limitations for religious gatherings make little sense in light of the limitations imposed on various secular gatherings. For example, under Phase Two restrictions, restaurants and other businesses are allowed to operate at 50% of maximum capacity, and the governor has recently allowed outdoor graduation ceremonies of up to 150 persons to take place; meanwhile the prohibitions limiting religious gatherings remained in place.
The order enjoins the governor and mayor from enforcing any gathering limits upon the plaintiffs more restrictive than the limits in place for “Phase 2 industries” as long as worshipers also “follow social distancing requirements,” and also prevents enforcement of any limitations to outdoor gatherings, again as subject to social distancing.