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Federal Judge Permanently Blocks New York’s COVID-19 Restrictions Against Houses of Worship

Last month, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against New York’s COVID-19 restrictions as applied to houses of worship. The judge wrote that “no public interest is served by maintaining an unconstitutional policy when constitutional alternatives are available to achieve the same goal.”

This decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked New York from enforcing attendance limits pending an appeal. In a 5-4 ruling, the court contended that the limits violated the Free Exercise clause. The court contended that the 10- and 25-person limits in red and orange zones likely weren’t neutral or generally applicable because essential and non-essential businesses were not subject to the same restrictions.

Now another federal court on Monday has permanently blocked the state’s COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship. The court previously allowed a preliminary injunction against the restrictions. From the order (five-page PDF) (emphasis added):

In light of the decisions by the Supreme Court, Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y. v. Cuomo, 141 S. Ct. 63 (2020), and the Second Circuit, Agudath Israel of Am. v. Cuomo, 983 F.3d 620(2d Cir. 2020), specifically finding that “both the fixed capacity and percentage capacity limits on houses of worship” in the red and orange zones “are subject to strict scrutiny,” 983 F.3d 620, 632, Defendant has agreed to an injunction against enforcement of the 25% and 33% capacity limits in red and orange zones, respectively, and has not presented additional evidence to supplement what was submitted in opposition to the Plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

Becket Law, which represents Agudath Israel, stated in a tweet after the decision, Governor Andrew Cuomo essentially asked the judge to rule against his orders. Becket cited the New York Times article that revealed several state health officials resigned after the governor told doctors to “make up scientific justifications for his COVID lockdown orders.”

These NY health officials apparently were made to match their policy documents with Cuomo’s announcements at his many press conferences. They felt blindsided by the rules related to the “cluster initiative” that shut down houses of worship throughout Brooklyn.

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