3 Orthodox Jews and 2 Catholic priests sue over NY restrictions on houses of worship


(JTA) — Three Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn and two Catholic priests are suing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other New York officials over continued restrictions on houses of worship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, also names New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and state Attorney General Letitia James as defendants. It accuses Cuomo of violating the plaintiffs’ rights to free exercise of religion and speech by limiting the number of people who can attend religious services, a move Cuomo made in mid-March to slow the spread of disease in New York.

Earlier this month, Cuomo issued an executive order permitting houses of worship to open, at 25% capacity, in areas designated as phase two of the state reopening plan, which includes all of the state except for New York City. Houses of worship had been slated for the fourth stage of reopening.

The Orthodox Jewish plaintiffs — Elchanan Perr, Daniel Schonborn and Mayer Mayerfeld — live in Brooklyn, where houses of worship are currently capped at just 10 attendees.

The three men joined with two Catholic priests to challenge the emergency orders. “These orders, both the emergency stay-at-home and reopening plan declarations, clearly discriminate against houses of worship,” Christopher Ferrara, special council for the Thomas More Society, which is representing the plaintiffs,said in a statement.

“Why is a large worship gathering deemed more dangerous than a mass protest, full of shouting, arm-waving people in close proximity to one another?” he added, referring to the protests in New York and across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

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