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New York synagogues seek Supreme Court relief from state COVID restrictions
New York synagogues seek Supreme Court relief from state COVID restrictions

A group of Orthodox Jewish synagogues in New York State filed an emergency application on Monday with the US Supreme Court seeking relief from state COVID-19 restrictions.

The applicants, Agudath Israel of Kew Garden Hills and Agudath Israel Madison, are synagogues affiliated with Agudath Israel of America, a national grassroots Orthodox Jewish organization. The relief sought is an injunction to bar enforcement of New York Executive Order 202.68, which applies restrictions to numerous in-person gatherings, including religious services at houses of worship. This emergency application comes even as applicants’ appeal on this matter is currently pending in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit following a denial in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

The applicants argue that Orthodox Jewish communities in New York have been targeted with discriminatory restrictions on their religious exercise. Calling them “guilt-by-religious-association restrictions,” the applicants maintain that they have followed US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines as appropriate and that this executive order is instead meant to specifically target Orthodox Jewish worship. Citing the Free Exercise Clause of the US Constitution, the applicants seek to allow the free exercise of their synagogue services on an emergency basis.

This case comes after a series of executive orders from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that have applied bans on non-essential gatherings of more than 10 people. These orders have also created capacity restrictions for certain businesses and organizations that have been associated with COVID-19 clusters, such as houses of worship.

This filing is not the first by a New York religious organization seeking relief from Cuomo’s COVID-19 restrictions. Roman Catholic groups filed a similar emergency application in October, making largely identical allegations regarding a bar on the free exercise of religion. That case has since been filed as an application for an emergency writ of injunction in the US Supreme Court as well.

A decision on the application is likely to be provided by Friday afternoon following review by US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.