Amanda Casanova| Wednesday, February 10, 2021
A federal judge has granted a permanent injunction that blocks the state of New York’s restrictions on indoor worship gatherings.
The ruling comes after the U.S. Supreme Court decided to issue a temporary injunction on the restrictions in November.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had originally issued an order in October 2020 that placed many houses of worship in restricted zones in the state.
In red zones, churches were limited to 25 percent occupancy or 10 people, whichever is fewer. In orange zones, houses of worship were limited to a 33 percent occupancy or 25 people, whichever is fewer.
In response to the order, the Agudath Israel of America and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn filed a lawsuit, saying the rules violated their First Amendment rights.
In November, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to grant a temporary court order on enforcement of the limitations.
In the decision, the court said the rules were not “neutral” because some essential and non-essential businesses were not subject to the same limitations.
The case was then sent back to Matsumoto.
Matsumoto said the state “agreed to an injunction against enforcement of the 25 percent and 33 percent capacity limits in red and orange zones.”
She added that the state “has not presented additional evidence” in support of the restrictions.
Eric Rassback, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented churches in the lawsuit, said the restrictions came from “politics” and not “public health.”
“The court’s order is good news for the synagogues, churches, and other houses of worship of New York,” he said.
“We welcome Governor Cuomo’s surrender, even if it took him way too long to figure out he was acting illegally,” Rassbach said. “And we hope he learned something along the way. If he writes another COVID book, maybe he can give it the title I Did It My Way—And Boy Was I Wrong!”
Earlier this month, several New York state health officials resigned after reportedly disagreeing with the governor’s handling of the pandemic.