by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read
With government officials banning church gatherings, choirs and issuing threats of eviction against prominent pastors like John MacArthur, the state of California has been the epicenter of the religious freedom battle in recent weeks.
Yet, it appears as though New York is trailing in a close second place for where government is most blatantly attacking religious communities.
Last week, New York City officials fined five Orthodox Jewish institutions $15,000 each for having more than 10 people inside their religious facilities.
This action came on the heels of the governor and state officials reissuing limits on the size of people gathered in “non-essential” businesses, schools (including private religious schools) and faith-based organizations.
At a recent press conference, New York Andrew Governor Cuomo stated the following in reference specifically to Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City:
“If the religious leaders do not agree to abide by these rules then we will close the religious institutions, period…I have to say to the Orthodox community tomorrow, if you’re not willing to live with these rules, then I’m going to close the synagogues.”
The Governor also spoke directly about the possibility of using an “enforcement task force” comprised of state agents to keep religious communities in compliance with social distancing guidelines and gathering restrictions.
The new restrictions led to the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn filing lawsuit in federal court against the state of New York, arguing that COVID-19 restrictions violate the Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion. Also, a group of Orthodox Jewish rabbis filed a similar lawsuit. In both cases, a federal judge ruled against the religious groups and upheld the state’s restrictions.
Governor Cuomo, however, isn’t the first or only government official in the Empire State to target churches and synagogues. In fact, this is just the latest in a growing list of incidents that reveal a deep-seated problem of religious discrimination and bigotry in New York.
When the state initially began its reopening phase several weeks ago, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio (as well as the Governor) put in place policies and harsher restrictions on religious worship services, yet condoned and allowed mass gatherings of people for protests.
This led to a litigation battle, which ended in a federal judge issuing an opinion in favor of two Catholic priests and three Orthodox Jewish congregants seeking relief from the Mayor and the Governor’s orders. That ruling stated:
“They could have also been silent. But by acting as they did, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio sent a clear message that mass protests are deserving of preferential treatment.”
In a similar legal matter involving burdensome restrictions on religious services, First Liberty’s team of attorneys secured a triumph to reclaim the First Amendment rights of three churches in a small, rural New York county to safely resume worship services.
But if it doesn’t seem as if Mayor De Blasio and Governor Cuomo’s actions are enough evidence of anti-faith bias, let’s just recall how religious intolerance has reared its ugly head in the state legislature.
At the height of the outbreak, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman published the following Tweet in reference to Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian nonprofit organization, that set up a field hospital to help treat coronavirus victims in Manhattan:
These are just a few and recent examples that have surfaced due to the constitutional crisis created by the pandemic.
A review of NY’s history shows that religious discrimination (especially against the Jewish community) has been a pervasive problem for decades.
We need only recall First Liberty’s ongoing legal fight in Airmont, a village outside NYC where the Orthodox Jewish community has faced government red tape and bureaucratic obstacles to worship for over 30 years.
If government officials can blatantly discriminate against religious minorities and people of faith like they’ve done so recently in New York City or for decades in Airmont…then what’s to stop them from discriminating against any American, of any faith?
There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution. Our God-given rights and freedoms aren’t suspended, regardless of hostile public officials who are trying to reduce them to second-class status.
With your support, First Liberty can keep winning key victories during this crucial crossroads for religious freedom in America. Join us on the frontlines by making a gift today.