A federal judge ruled on Friday that New York's restrictions on church services could not be enforced while the state encouraged unrestricted Black Lives Matter protests -- upholding the rights of religious leaders who were discriminated against in The Empire State.
Judge Gary Shape of the Northern District of New York saw through the blatant double standard, noting both Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) encouraged New Yorkers, despite the danger of COVID-19 infection, to "protest; just be smart about it," while levying pages of restrictions against church, synagogue, and presumably mosque services. For example, faith groups' indoor gatherings were limited to 25 percent capacity while other types of gatherings were allowed 50 percent.
The plaintiffs, two Roman Catholic priests from upstate New York and three Orthodox Jewish congregants from Brooklyn, argued that the restrictions violated their First Amendment rights to practice their religion. The judge noted that both Cuomo and de Blasio have expressed approval for protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month while continuing to support restrictions on religious gatherings.
Thomas More Society Special Counsel Christopher Ferrara, who represented the plaintiffs, is happy with the ruling.
"It shows that there's fairness in the law," he tells OneNewsNow. "When you present the facts, you can get a fair decision, and what is obviously unfair and unjust and even ridiculous can be remedied by a court."
"There was just no justification for what they were doing -- allowing tens of thousands to march for one cause while telling people, 'You can't use a park with your children,'" Ferrara continues. "It's just intolerable. It's nonsense, so the judge corrected it."
Judge Sharp put the restrictions on hold while the legal challenge winds its way through the federal courts. Attorney Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel says the ruling is a start, but it needs to be repeated in other states with the same unconstitutional restrictions.
"Every one of these states allows an unlimited number of people to gather for feeding or sheltering and secular social services in the same church building," Staver points out. "But as soon as they turn to religious worship or religious messages or gatherings, then these restrictions kick in."
Executive orders issued by Governor Cuomo severely limited the number of people allowed in church buildings and were oddly specific, like preventing congregants from kneeling to receive communion and excluding Jewish youth from attending certain services.
"No state has the right to micromanage the form, the content, the manor of your worship -- to tell you what is essential, what is not essential," Staver asserts. "To even say whether your religious worship is essential is a problem."
Liberty Counsel has challenged similar restrictions in Virginia, Maine, and Kentucky.
"This is not the rule of law," the attorney insists. "It's not the Constitution of the United States that's being honored here; it's not America. It's the absolute antithesis of America and our constitutional republic."
And Ferrara says there is another lesson to be learned.
"I think what this case stands for is the proposition that the Constitution does not permit a regime in which there is freedom for me but not for thee," he concludes.