(PresidentialInsider.com)- Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was dealt another blow on Monday, when a federal appeals court struct down the strict limits he had placed on gatherings at religious institutions.
The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that Cuomo’s lockdown “discriminates against religion on its face.” The said this was because the rules set unfair restrictions on synagogues and churches, while at the same time allowed “essential” businesses to fully operate.
Cuomo had placed coronavirus-related restrictions on religious gatherings, limiting them to either 25% capacity or 10 people in what were deemed “red zones.” In “orange zones,” those limits were higher at 33% capacity or 25 people.
Two synagogues, Agudath Israel of America and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn joined together to file a lawsuit against the state regarding the executive order. The group argued the restrictions limited their right to free exercise of religion.
In its ruling, the judges wrote:
“The restrictions challenged here specifically and disproportionately burden religious exercise” and violate the First Amendment. “We conclude that [Cuomo’s] Order discriminates against religion on its face.
“No public interest is served by maintaining an unconstitutional policy when constitutional alternatives are available to achieve the same goal.”
Back in November, the Supreme Court ruled against Cuomo’s restrictions in a 5-4 decision. That ruling placed a stay on the order, blocking him from enforcing his rules.
Following that decision, Cuomo said the ruling was “irrelevant of any practical impact because of the zone they were talking about is moot.”
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said:
“Not only is there no evidence that the applicants have contributed to the spread of COVID-19, but there are many other less restrictive rules that could be adopted to minimize the risk to those attending religious services. Among other things, the maximum attendance at a religious service could be tied to the size of the church or synagogue.
“Almost all of the 26 Diocese churches immediately affected by the Executive Order can seat at least 500 people, about 14 can accommodate at least 700, and 2 can seat over 1,000. Similarly, Agudath Israel of Kew Garden Hills can seat up to 400.
“It is hard to believe that admitting more than 10 people to a 1,000-seat church or 400-seat synagogue would create a more serious health risk than the many other activities that the State allows.”
The Supreme Court justices, as well as the appeals court judges, firmly stood behind the rule of the law. They said that if New York were to impose restrictions on religious institutions, they’d have to impose similar restrictions to other parts of life, including businesses.
As the ruling stated:
“Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.
“Before allowing this to occur, we have a duty to conduct a serious examination of the need for such a drastic measure.”