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Judicial Blow to Cuomo: Appeals Court Reverses Religious Restrictions

“We conclude that Cuomo’s Order discriminates against religion on the face of it,” wrote Circuit Judge Michael Park in the ruling

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Justice has once again reversed an executive order from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo related to pandemic restrictions. The federal court of appeals in Manhattan overturned the measure establishing capacity limits on places of worship.

Previously, on November 26th, the Supreme Court had held that the governor’s restrictions violated the First Amendment’s protection for the free exercise of religion.

This time the three-judge panel of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals sided unanimously with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, the Jewish Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America and two synagogues that sued Cuomo over temple attendance limits.

“We conclude that the Order [of Cuomo] discriminates against religion on the face of it,” Circuit Judge Michael Park wrote in the ruling.

The lawsuit arose after the governor limited religious gatherings to fewer than 10 people or 25 percent capacity in the “red” areas, where the risk of COVID-19 was highest, and 25 people or 33 percent capacity in the slightly less risky “orange” areas.

The applicants argued that the restrictions trampled on their religious rights, causing them “irreparable harm.”

A majority of the judges on the court had said that the restrictions “strike at the very heart of the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom” and that “even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be rejected and forgotten”.

Cuomo: may New York go off

The restrictions decreed by Cuomo define changing “red zones” where the risk of coronavirus is greatest, and where no more than 10 people can attend religious services. In the slightly less dangerous “orange zones”, attendance is limited to 25. This applies even to churches that can accommodate more than 1,000 people.

The high court’s order responds to two lawsuits: one filed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, the other by two synagogues, an Orthodox Jewish organization and two individuals.

Both lawsuits claim that the restrictions imposed by the governor violate constitutional protections for the free exercise of religion, and the synagogues’ request states that Cuomo had “singled out a particular religion as being responsible for the increase in cases.” He claims that the governor retaliated for the increase in the pandemic.

On Wednesday, November 11th, Cuomo announced a series of restrictive measures to try to stem the tide of contagion that included a curfew for bars, restaurants and gyms.

One of the impositions is that private meetings cannot exceed ten people. Infobae explains that “the new measures, which will take effect on Friday, came one day after California and several Midwestern states tightened restrictions on residents on Tuesday to try to stop the rapid spread of the virus.

The announcements were accompanied by a series of recommendations for Christmas. The data provided range from virtual dinners, internet shopping and caroling in the streets, but with social distancing.

At the time, the governor said the ruling was “irrelevant” since some of the restrictions were lifted as COVID-19 outbreaks in the areas in question decreased.

A report by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) noted that “the blockades do not control the coronavirus”.

In the document, the organization evidenced that several studies indicate that “there is no relationship between the blockages and the control of the virus”.

“The virus will do what viruses do, as always in the history of infectious diseases. We have extremely limited control over them, and what we have is linked to time and place. Fear, panic, and coercion are not ideal strategies for controlling viruses. Medical intelligence and therapeutics work much better”, the report states.

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