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Federal judge says Cuomo, de Blasio unfairly targeted religious worship while sanctioning protests

The governor's strict limits on religious worship are 'underinclusive,' judge rules.

June 26, 2020 4:03pm

Updated: June 26, 2020 4:53pm

A federal judge in New York ruled on Friday that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have unfairly discriminated against churches in the city and state while at the same time sanctioning and approving of massive "race-related protests" in the same localities. 

Those protests exploded across the country at the end of May and in the early part of June in response to the police killing of black Minneapolis resident George Floyd. The advent of the protests brought about a sharp turn of rhetoric for Cuomo and de Blasio: For months they had strongly insisted on major and open-ended "social distancing" policies throughout their jurisdictions, yet they were for the most part enthusiastic backers of the densely crowded demonstrations.

In a Friday ruling, U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe ruled in New York's Northern District Court that both politicians had "arbitrarily" restricted religious gatherings while openly approving of the protests, some of which have resulted in "groups of thousands" of demonstrators, as Sharpe notes.

De Blasio in particular has "actively encouraged participation in protests and openly discouraged religious gatherings and threatened religious worshipers," Sharpe writes. 

Ruling in favor of the plaintiffs—two Catholic priests and three Orthodox Jewish congregants—Sharpe declares that the state is forbidden from enforcing unequal indoor capacity limits against religious worshippers, and that it cannot enforce "any limitation for outdoor gatherings" so long as "participants in such gatherings follow social distancing requirements."

Writing on the unequal treatment in which the politicians engaged: Sharpe declares in the decision: "Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio could have just as easily discouraged protests, short of condemning their message, in the name of public health and exercised discretion to suspend enforcement for public safety reasons instead of encouraging what they knew was a flagrant disregard of the outdoor limits and social distancing rules."

"But by acting as they did, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio sent a clear message that mass protests are deserving of preferential treatment."

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