Catholic Priests and Orthodox Jewish Congregants Sue New York Governor in Federal Court For Civil Rights Violations

Two Catholic priests and three orthodox Jewish congregants from Brooklyn are suing Governor Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James, and Mayor Bill de Blasio for allowing thousands of rioters to take to the streets after the alleged murder of George Floyd, while at the same time still banning religious gatherings.

The federal lawsuit, filed June 10, 2020, in United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, charges the governor, attorney general, and mayor with violating the plaintiffs’ rights to free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, assembly and expressive association, and due process, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

They also accuse Governor Cuomo “of acting against New York state law and the New York State Constitution.”

The Complaint for Civil Rights Violations, Injunctive Relief and a Declaratory Judgement was filed on behalf of Rev. Steven Soos, Rev. Nicholas Stamos, Daniel Schonbrun, Elchanan Perr, and Mayer Mayerfeld, pro bono by the Thomas More Society, a not-for-profit, national public interest law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty.

Special Counsel Christopher Ferrara explained the key points of the lawsuit:

“These orders, both the emergency stay-at-home and reopening plan declarations, clearly discriminate against houses of worship. They are illegally content-based, elaborate, arbitrary, and pseudo-scientific. The governor and his agents, along with New York City’s mayor, have employed favoritism and political platforms against people of faith.”

He adds that in addition to the unconstitutional and discriminatory aspects of the state and city executive orders, and Mayor de Blasio’s enforcement, the “so-called science” being touted is irrational. He asks:

“Why is a large worship gathering deemed more dangerous than a mass protest, full of shouting, arm-waving people in close proximity to one another?”

Mayor de Blasio, not wearing the face mask he requires of others, attended and addressed a mass political gathering at New York City’s Cadman Plaza, the suit notes. Few were “social distancing.”

Days later, a small group of Hasidic Jewish children was kicked out of a public park by a police officer who was enforcing Cuomo’s and de Blasio’s ten-person limit on “non-essential gatherings.”

In late April, de Blasio threatened the Jewish community with arrests and prosecutions for “illegal” mass religious gatherings and personally appeared on the scene when a group of New York Police officers were dispersing a Jewish funeral gathering.

Under the New York and New York City’s lockdown order, those who don’t comply can face criminal charges, jail time, and a $1000 fine.

“The governor and his agents, along with New York City’s mayor, have employed favoritism and political platforms against people of faith,” Ferrara said. “It is time to end New York’s experiment in absolute monarchy. We are asking the court to put an end to these unconstitutional executive orders and their prejudicial enforcement.”



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