ABOVE: Christopher Ferrara, a Thomas More Society lawyer, appeared on the Friday edition of CBN News's Faith Nation to discuss the reopening of churches. Faith Nation is seen weekdays on the CBN News Channel. For a programming schedule, click here.
A federal judge has told New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio they can't limit worship services to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the same time they're condoning mass protests.
Senior US District Judge Gary Sharpe pointed to the inherent double-standard. Even as massive protests over police misconduct and "black lives matter" rallies have gone on largely unrestricted, Cuomo and de Blasio have put in place severe restrictions on how many worshippers can gather at religious services.
"The position was basically indefensible," Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Christopher Ferrara told CBN News. Thomas More Society has been fighting against New York's anti-religious restrictions from the start. Two Catholic priests and three Orthodox Jewish congregants sued Cuomo, de Blasio, and New York Attorney General Letitia James in this case.
Ferrara said of New York's rules, "There's a vast network of regulations governing capacity limitations of various businesses and entities. And I look at it as kind of an inverted pyramid. At the very bottom of the inverted pyramid, all alone in the 25 percent indoor limitation, was religion. Just religion. Nothing else."
Speaking of Judge Sharpe's action, Ferrara said, "The judge's ruling issued today says essentially this: that religious gatherings, like other business gatherings, are entitled to a 50 percent occupancy limitation. There's no rational basis to distinguish, for example, restaurants at 50 percent capacity from a house of worship at 50 percent capacity."
Cuomo was apparently willing to make a small compromise, aware a ruling was coming that might dismiss his limits altogether. Ferrara told CBN News, "Now on the eve of the judge's ruling, I understand that the governor has leapfrogged religion into Phase Four throughout the state. But even in Phase Four, religion and religion only is at 33% indoor occupancy."
As for outdoor gatherings, Judge Sharpe issued a preliminary injunction on Friday, June 26, ordering Cuomo and de Blasio to lift their COVID-19 restrictions on outdoor religious worship gatherings.
When it came to that part of the judge's ruling, Ferrara explained, "He held that outdoor gatherings cannot be limited. As to our clients, they need only practice the social distance guidelines for outdoor gatherings. But there's no longer a strict numerical limitation to 25 people in the (state's) north country, for example. Or 10 people, which was applicable in the lower half of the state, especially in New York City. That's gone now because they have effectively abolished that whole framework by allowing these massive demonstrations."
Indeed, the judge ruled, "By acting as they did, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio sent a clear message that mass protests are deserving of preferential treatment.".
Sharpe also stated, "It is not the judiciary's role to second guess the likes of Governor Cuomo or Mayor de Blasio when it comes to decisions they make in such troubling times, that is until those decisions result in the curtailment of fundamental rights without compelling justification."
Ferrara said, "We are pleased that Judge Sharpe was able to see through the sham of Governor 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. Suddenly, the limit on 'mass gatherings' was no longer necessary to 'save lives.' Yet they were continuing to ban high school graduations and other outdoor gatherings exceeding a mere 25 people. This decision is an important step toward inhibiting the suddenly emerging trend of exercising absolute monarchy on pretext of public health. What this kind of regime really meant in practice is freedom for me, but not for thee."
STAY UP TO DATE WITH THE FREE CBN NEWS APP!
Click Here Get the App with Special Alerts on Breaking News and Live Events!