Restrictions in New York meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 have led to Orthodox Jewish groups and a Roman Catholic diocese filing lawsuits against the state of New York. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn is accusing Gov. Andrew Cuomo of violating its religious freedom.
In a statement on Thursday, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said the recent executive orders by Cuomo "have left us with no other option than to go to court."
"Our churches have the capacity to accommodate many worshippers and to reset our attendance capacity to 10 people maximum in the red zone, and 25 people in the orange zone, when we have had no significant cases, impedes our right to worship and cannot stand," DiMarzio said. "The State has completely disregarded the fact that our safety protocols have worked and it is an insult to once again penalize all those who have made the safe return to Church work."
Several Orthodox Jewish synagogues and rabbis filed a separate lawsuit, saying the restrictions interfered with their religious practices and violated their First Amendment rights.
Cuomo announced the creation of a "new cluster action initiative" earlier this week. The initiative is aimed at the areas considered to be "hot spots" for infection in New York. The high infection areas will have a new set of restrictions on gatherings.
The initiative divides up the areas into three zones, with the highest risk zone prohibiting all mass gatherings and limiting houses of worship to 25% capacity or a maximum of 10 people. The rules are to be in effect for at least two weeks, and those who continue to have mass gatherings could face a $15,000 fine.
"We know religious institutions have been a problem. If you do not agree to follow the rules, then we will close the institutions down. I am prepared to do that," Cuomo said at a Monday press conference. "The religious community has to agree to the rules and they have to agree that they are going to follow the rules. And they have to agree that they are going to be a full partner in the enforcement of the rules."