Jewish Groups File Suit Against New York Governor Over Coronavirus Restrictions

( Jewish groups in New York have filed a lawsuit against Governor Andrew Cuomo and his coronavirus restrictions.

The coalition of Jewish groups said in an emergency filing with the Supreme Court on Monday that the restrictions discriminate against Jewish people and also violate the First Amendment.

After infections of coronavirus began to spike in New York City, additional restrictions were re-imposed. When that happened, Cuomo said the outbreak was “predominantly an ulta-Orthodox cluster.” At a press conference on October 5, the governor even attributed the rise in cases to religious practices by Jews.

Last month, the governor said:

“The majority of ultra-Orthodox groups I’ve spoken with have been cooperative. There’s a relatively small number that’s uncooperative and just believe they should be exempt from these government operations.”

In response, the emergency filing with the Supreme Court read:

“In a series of press conferences, the governor explained that he was enacting new restrictions on places of worship, in certain neighborhoods that contain many Orthodox Jews, because he believed that this religious minority is to blame for a recent increase in COVID-19 infection rates. The governor left no doubt that targeting Orthodox Jews was his primary motivation.”

On the surface, it would seem that the Jewish groups don’t have much of a chance for success. The Supreme Court thus far has denied challenges from several religious organizations about overbearing coronavirus restrictions. This case is slightly different, though, as Cuomo singled out the Orthodox Jewish community when explaining his new executive orders.

The group’s emergency filing asks the Supreme Court to make a decision on the application by Friday at 3 p.m. That’s just before the Sabbath begins.

The legal effort is being led by Agudath Israel of America, which is an umbrella organization for Orthodox Jews. Also joining the effort are synagogues based in Queens and Brooklyn.

The governor’s new rules create three zones, and each has a set of restrictions. Two of those zones, the orange and red zones, the plaintiffs say, have been created unfairly to target as many Jews as possible. An earlier iteration of these rules didn’t include criteria for designating zones where restrictions apply. The plaintiffs say this is another sign of Cuomo’s discrimination against them.

As the lawsuit reads:

“When the restricted areas in Brooklyn are overlaid on a map of Orthodox synagogues, yeshivas and businesses in the area, the governor’s targeting of Orthodox Jewish communities is readily apparent.”

The plaintiffs draw a comparison to the 2018 Supreme Court case called Masterpiece Cakeshop. In that case, a Christian baker refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The Supreme Court backed the bake shop, saying officials in the state showed obvious hostility to the bakery owner based on his religious views, whereas they should have remained neutral.

As the suit reads:

“If anything, the governor’s contemporaneous comments here are worse than those in Masterpiece Cakeshop. The governor did not attack religious belief generally, but signaled out a particular religion for blame and retribution for an uptick in a society-wide pandemic.”