Two religious groups filed suit against the state of New York on Thursday to protest new restrictions on worship in coronavirus clusters in parts of New York.
While New York has seen low coronavirus spread throughout the summer, new clusters have recently appeared in certain parts of the state. The state government, headed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, has decided to limit capacity of houses of worship within the clusters to ten people, and to entirely ban mass gatherings in the cluster areas.
The two separate lawsuits against the restrictions were brought by Agudath Israel, an organization representing Orthodox Jews, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. While some clusters have appeared at upstate colleges and in the town of Binghamton, other new clusters have appeared in areas with a large communities of Orthodox Jews, including in Rockland and Orange counties and parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
The restrictions on worship were implemented days before the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.
“These limits would, according to just one of the points made in the lawsuit, disrupt the religious observance of tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews, ‘depriving them of their religious worship and holiday observance,'” Agudath Israel said in a statement.
“The executive orders this week have left us with no other option than to go to court,” commented Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn. “Our churches have the capacity to accommodate many worshippers and to reset our attendance capacity to 10 people maximum in the red zone…when we have had no significant cases, impedes our right to worship and cannot stand.”
The protests from religious leaders come as the state and New York City government attempt to stem a rise of coronavirus cases that has alarmed health officials. The city’s seven-day rolling average of new coronavirus cases stands at 526, very close to the 550 rolling average that the city set as a benchmark to trigger more sweeping restrictions.
“We’re in a situation where we have state-mandated restrictions in particular areas to stop a resurgence, and that resurgence, if it is not stopped, will overtake the whole city and will lead to across-the-board restrictions on the whole city,” New York mayor Bill de Blasio warned on Thursday.