A federal judge in New York on Friday chastised Gov. Andrew Cuomo for imposing social distancing rules on churches during the coronavirus pandemic while allowing and encouraging mass demonstrations against police brutality.
U.S. District Judge Gary L. Sharpe issued a preliminary injunction against Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, the state’s attorney general and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying he sensed an unconstitutional double standard in officials condoning mass protests in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd but continuing to restrict religious assembly.
“It is plain to this court that the broad limits of that executive latitude have been exceeded,” Judge Sharpe wrote. “They could have also been silent. But by acting as they did, Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio sent a clear message that mass protests are deserving of preferential treatment.”
In his opinion, Judge Sharpe referenced a June 4 press conference during which Mr. Cuomo said: “Protest, just be smart about it.”
The judge’s ruling restricts the governor from imposing any social-distance protocol greater than those imposed by phase two, or any capacity restrictions on a house of worship greater than 25%. Under the preliminary injunction, the state also must allow outdoor religious gatherings of any size.
Two Catholic priests in upstate New York and a trio of Orthodox Jewish congregants from Brooklyn sued Mr. Cuomo over the state’s prohibition against indoor services on June 10, two weeks into mass demonstrations around the country and in New York City.
“We are pleased that Judge Sharpe was able to see through the sham of Gov. Cuomo’s ‘Social Distancing Protocol’ which went right out the window as soon as he and Mayor de Blasio saw a mass protest movement they favored taking to the streets by the thousands,” said Christopher Ferrara, a lawyer for the Thomas More Society representing the plaintiffs.