Last week, Albany Update commented on the recent federal district court decision in Soos v. Cuomo. In that case, a preliminary injunction was issued to prevent Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio from unfairly limiting the plaintiffs’ religious gatherings.
In response to the Soos decision, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms has written to Gov. Cuomo to ask that he issue an executive order applying the provisions of that decision to all houses of worship. Specifically, this would mean that houses of worship in regions that have reached Phase II of the Governor’s New York Forward plan would be free to hold indoor services at 50% capacity and to hold outdoor gatherings with no limit on the number of participants, provided that social distancing requirements are observed. (Under Executive Order No. 202.45, so-called “non-essential gatherings” in Phase IV regions—including outdoor worship services—are limited to 50 persons. On June 24, 2020, Gov. Cuomo announced that houses of worship in Phase IV regions could hold indoor services at 33% of capacity.) In our letter, we asserted that such an order “would remedy any potential constitutional violation, reduce the need for further litigation, provide needed clarity, and promote fairness and common sense.” We also pointed out the disconnect between the Governor’s restrictions on worship services and his less restrictive approach to commercial establishments and mass protests.
It is hoped that Gov. Cuomo will see the wisdom of an executive order applying the Soos decision to churches in Phase II regions.