At New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, we look forward to the day when we can release a commentary rejoicing that the COVID-19 pandemic is over. The pain and suffering caused by the pandemic, and by the dramatic changes to American society that have resulted from it, cannot be overstated.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not yet in the rear-view mirror. In fact, COVID-19 infections are increasing across the nation. As a result, states (including New York), municipalities, schools, and other institutions have responded by implementing (or re-implementing) various restrictions and other safety measures.
This Albany Update will discuss a few recent lawsuits that have been filed in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 policies.
The first of these four lawsuits, Agudath Israel of America v. Cuomo, was filed by a prominent Orthodox Jewish organization and three synagogues on October 8, 2020. The lawsuit challenged Gov. Cuomo’s recent restrictions on cluster zones (or hot spots) where there have been recent spikes in COVID-19 infections. The restrictions were imposed shortly before Jewish holidays, and they made it impossible for the Orthodox community to engage in their normal worship practices. The plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction blocking the Governor’s order was denied; a federal judge reasoned that the Governor’s action was neutral and did not cause irreparable harm.
The next lawsuit, The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York v. Cuomo, also challenged the Governor’s cluster zone restrictions. The Brooklyn Diocese contended that limiting religious gatherings to 10 people was unreasonable in light of the size of many Brooklyn churches, and that the Catholic Church has demonstrated that it can hold worship services without causing COVID-19 outbreaks. However, a judge denied a temporary injunction in this case as well, and the lawsuit remains ongoing.
A third case also arises out of the cluster zone restrictions. In Lebovits v. Cuomo, an Orthodox Jewish family challenged the cluster restrictions’ impact upon the Bais Yaakov Ateres Miriam (BYAM) school for Jewish girls in Queens, New York. The lawsuit seeks to allow the school to re-open for in-person instruction. That case is pending.
A fourth case, Empire Center v. Department of Health, was filed by the fiscally conservative Empire Center for Public Policy. The lawsuit challenges the state’s persistent unwillingness to release the full number of nursing home patients that have died from COVID-19 in New York. The state’s unwillingness to release this information is easy to explain: The numbers will likely lead to further scrutiny of the Cuomo administration’s disastrous policy of preventing nursing homes from “discriminating” against COVID-19 patients. The state’s continued stonewalling is nothing more than a cowardly and self-serving attempt by the Governor to avoid accountability. Unsurprisingly, Attorney General Letitia James contends that the state has done nothing wrong.
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms continues to call upon New York government to refrain from trampling upon religious liberty as it seeks to protect the public from another mass COVID-19 outbreak. We also continue to call upon Christians and churches to do our part to protect ourselves, our families, and our neighbors from this virus.