This morning, Albany federal district judge Gary I. Sharpe issued a preliminary injunction against New York City and New York State from enforcing restrictions specific to religious gatherings, both indoors and outdoors. For indoor gatherings, the judge basically held that the defendants could only enforce restrictions imposed for Phase 2 businesses. (“Phase 2 allows a wide range of businesses to reopen, including most office-based businesses, administrative services, commercial building management, real estate services, and repair and cleaning services.” (from https://www.natlawreview.com/article/new-york-state-releases-reopening-guidance-phase-2-businesses)
And, the Judge barred enforcement of any limitation for outdoor gatherings for religious activities, so religious families in NY should now be able to have publicly attended funerals.
Here is the judge’s decision
Of course, the judged cited and discussed the Supreme Court’s recent decision in S. Bay United Pentecostal Church v Newsom. Here is my post about that case.
Basically, the judge held that NYC and state exceeded their authority because they treated religious gatherings differently from other kinds of equivalent social activities. It seems like the judge was particularly impressed (negatively that is) by the oft-pointed out hypocrisy in permitting and indeed encouraging outdoor social protests against racism, while at the same time prohibiting outdoor religious activities like funerals.
However, the court did not enjoin the City and State from enforcing the social distancing rules set out in the laws and executive orders.
Read in the context of the recent Supreme Court’s decision, government authorities need to make sure that their regulations do not differently/unfairly burden religious entities and activities compared to similiar non-religious activities. The rub of course is figuring out what are the equivalent non-religious activities, which sometimes can be challenging.
There are plenty of weeds to get into maybe sometime later, but for now:
in New York, religious activities are permitted outdoors, and indoors to the same extent which similiar businesses and business activities are permitted, and that is very good news for the religious, and some needed judicial pushback.
Rick Jaffe, Esq.