New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are using coronavirus restrictions as a "blatant double standard" to discriminate against people of faith, using threats of fines and criminal prosecution, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.
Two Catholic priests -- Steven Soos and Nicholas Stamos -- and a trio of Orthodox Jewish congregants -- Elchanan Perr, Daniel Schonborn, and Mayer Mayerfeld -- in Brooklyn, represented by the Thomas More Society, filed the suit in the Northern District of New York after mass protests and looting occurred in the Big Apple following George Floyd's death.
“Why is a large worship gathering deemed more dangerous than a mass protest, full of shouting, arm-waving people in close proximity to one another?” Christopher Ferrara, Thomas More Society special counsel, said in a statement to Fox News.
“These orders, both the emergency stay-home and reopening plan declarations, clearly discriminate against houses of worship," Ferrara added. "They are illegally content-based, elaborate, arbitrary and pseudo-scientific."
Among many violations cited, the group points out de Blasio ignoring social distancing and the 10-person limit when he didn't wear a face mask on June 4 while attending and addressing a mass political gathering at New York City's Cadman Plaza. Days later, in Williamsburg, Hasidic Jewish children were kicked out of a park by a police officer enforcing Cuomo and de Blasio's 10-person limit on "non-essential gatherings."
In April, de Blasio threatened the Jewish community -- which had a string of attacks this past winter -- with arrests and prosecutions for "illegal" mass religious gatherings after police in Williamsburg broke up the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Mertz.
“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed,” de Blasio wrote in a tweet. "I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period."
He was forced to apologize for targeting the Jewish community as a whole but doubled down on his remarks, calling it "tough love."
And recently, New York theaters, which are supposed to remain closed until "Phase Four" of Cuomo's plan, have reportedly opened their doors to protesters for rest, wi-fi use, bathrooms, and water and snacks, with instructions to keep police out of the premises. De Blasio nor Cuomo have shut that down.
The Thomas More Society lists a number of specifications for "congregate worship" and "houses of worship" in the orders "specifically regulating religion -- and only religion" a number of times.
“It is time to end New York’s experiment in absolute monarchy,” said Ferrara. “We are asking the court to put an end to these unconstitutional executive orders and grant a temporary restraining order against their prejudicial enforcement.”
On June 5, Cuomo announced he "relaxed" social distancing orders to "allow" religious gatherings at 25 percent of the capacity of houses of worship in some regions.