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NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) - Judges have ruled against New York religious groups pushing back against Gov. Andrew Cuomo's most recent executive order imposing new limits on religious gatherings.
On Friday, a federal judge denied the diocese of Brooklyn temporary protection from the executive order, and U.S. District Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto also denied a Jewish umbrella organization a temporary restraining order after a hearing.
In a statement released on Saturday, Bp. Nicholas DiMarzio expressed his perspective.
"We are left with no choice but, for now, to abide by the new restrictions that limit Mass attendance to 10 people in the red zones and 25 in the orange zones," said DiMarzio. "But we will continue to fight to vindicate our fundamental constitutional rights, and we will continue to be a model for safety in our religious community. And by doing right and being right, we will prevail."
Randy M. Mastro, a noted litigator and partner with the California-based law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, is representing the diocese of Brooklyn. He told Church Militant that the judge who made the ruling on Friday was sitting in as an emergecny judge.
In an email statement to Church Militant, Mastro revealed that Nicholas George Garaufis, Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, was assigned to the case.
According to Mastro, Garaufis "last night [Sunday night] ordered an evidentiary hearing on Thursday on our application for a preliminary injunction."
The Empire State's governor announced the new restrictions on Tuesday. They took effect on Thursday, the same day the diocese of Brooklyn and a Jewish organization filed lawsuits in federal court seeking protective orders to block the executive order. Cuomo admitted the order primarily impacts the faith community.
"The new rules are most impactful on houses of worship. This virus is not coming from nonessential business," said Cuomo. "This is about mass gatherings."
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn felt he had no choice but to respond.
"The executive orders this week have left us with no other option than to go to court," he said in a statement.
A group of Orthodox rabbis have organized under the name Agudath Israel and have also filed suit. They are especially troubled because the order comes on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish religion's holiest day of the year.
The state-identified "hot zones" include many neighborhoods that are home to traditionally observant Jewish groups. Jewish leaders have taken their objections to the streets of Borough Park. Waving Trump 2020 flags and burning masks, Jewish families were not keeping their anger under wraps.
In a letter posted online, a group of Jewish lawmakers wrote: "We are appalled by Governor Cuomo's words and actions today. He has chosen to pursue a scientifically and constitutionally questionable shutdown of our communities."
The governor's order not only shuts down churches and synagogues but also private schools, affecting both Catholic and Jewish families.
For Catholics in the diocese of Brooklyn, that means St. Athanasius Catholic Academy, Our Lady of Grace, St. Edmund Elementary School and Good Shepherd Catholic Academy will close for at least two weeks.
"Public officials have a sacred duty to do right by those they serve, but this is simply wrong and wrong-headed," Mastro said in a statement. "If this latest executive order stands, parishioners won't be able to go to Mass this Sunday, even though the diocese has done everything right to ensure safe conditions in its churches."
DiMarzio is clearly frustrated. From his point of view, the diocese has implemented costly and time-consuming protocols in order to protect the health of parishioners.
"We vehemently disagree with the capacity limits being placed on us. They are disrespectful to Catholics who have only been abiding by the rules," he stated. "We do not agree with such limitations because they completely disregard the fact that our safety protocols have worked."
The diocesan statement details the steps the diocese has taken to ensure public health:
Since returning to Mass, the faithful of the diocese of Brooklyn have fully abided by the rules, including wearing masks during Mass and sitting six feet part, with a row roped off in between and standing six feet apart on the Communion line. The pastors have installed hand sanitizers at the entrances and have ensured churches are cleaned and sanitized after Masses. A tremendous amount of time has been devoted, as well as resources and expense, to enforce these strict requirements to help ensure the safety of all.
A spokesperson for the governor is unimpressed.
"Virtually every action taken to protect public health during this pandemic is followed by a suit from somebody. We're focused on saving lives," the spokesperson said.