A private all-girls Jewish school in New York filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Mayor Bill de Blasio over new COVID restrictions that target religious schools in Orthodox Jewish communities.
The complaint was filed on Oct. 16 by Bais Yaakov Ateres Miriam (BYAM) school in Far Rockaway, NY and by parents Chana Shapiro-Lebovits and Yitzchok Lebovits, whose two daughters attend the school. The plaintiffs are requesting that BYAM re-opens for in-person instruction on Oct. 27.
Religious rights legal group Becket and the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty are representing the plaintiffs who say Cuomo and de Blasio's new order prohibiting in-person instruction at Jewish schools throughout New York City is discriminatory.
"We're now having issues in the Orthodox Jewish community in New York, where because of their religious practices, etc., we're seeing a spread," Cuomo recently said.
Additionally, Cuomo said the latest closures and restrictions were not driven by public health, but by "fear" of people "losing confidence" in New York City and "moving out."
The governor's efforts to blatantly single out the Jewish community were exposed after he used a 14-year-old photo during a recent news conference to claim that religious institutions "have been a problem" during the pandemic. He declared that the 2006 photo of Jewish mourners at a memorial service was proof the community has been troublesome in the "recent past."
#BREAKING: Cuomo threatens to close religious institutions that do not follow guidelines: "If you do not agree to enforce the rules, then we'll close the institutions down. I am prepared to do that." pic.twitter.com/nEb2kxRl96
— The Hill (@thehill) October 5, 2020
Plus, Cuomo has acknowledged that COVID-19 is "not being spread by schools," and de Blasio agrees that there has been "very little coronavirus activity" in schools.
The Lebovitses and BYAM are taking the governor and mayor to court in an effort to reopen their school doors and retain their rights to religious freedom.
"We are devastated for our daughters and their classmates who are needlessly suffering because of the Governor's policy," said Chana Lebovits. "Governor Cuomo should not take away part of my daughters' childhood because other people are afraid of Orthodox Jews. We hope the court will let our daughters go back to school so they can pray and learn together with their classmates."
Mark Rienzi, president and senior counsel at Becket asserts that the mayor and governor "should be ashamed" for naming the Jewish community as the root cause for the renewed spread of COVID.
In April, de Blasio tweeted "My message to the Jewish community, and all communities is this simple. The time for warnings have passed."
My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. 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.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 29, 2020
"There is no place for bigotry in the Big Apple," Rienzi added. "By Cuomo's own admission, schools are not significant spreaders of COVID-19, and the new policy was not driven by science but was made from 'fear'—fear of Orthodox Jews. Cuomo and de Blasio need to follow the science, follow the law, and stop scapegoating Jews."
Bigotry in the Big Apple? Because @NYGovCuomo admitted to “focusing on ultra-Orthodox communities” for his new #COVID19 shutdowns, Yitzchok and Chana Lebovits (and the Jewish school their daughters attend) are taking Cuomo and@NYCMayor de Blasio to court. THREAD:
— BECKET (@BECKETlaw) October 19, 2020
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