‘Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.” That sound statement comes from a federal court ruling rebuking Gov. Cuomo for his heavy-handed restrictions on houses of worship. They, along with restaurants, bars and other establishments, are increasingly turning to courts, with some success, to get relief from the gov’s freedom- and job-killing edicts. But it was clear from the start his rules were based on whim, not science.
The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Monday that Cuomo’s order limiting attendance at houses of worship to 10 and 25 people in red and orange zones, respectively, “discriminates against religion on its face,” imposing “greater restrictions on religious activities than on secular ones,” as Judge Michael Park wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel.
It was the second win for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America. A month ago, the US Supreme Court blocked the state from enforcing the rule while the case went through the courts. “It is time — past time — to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote then.
Now, restaurants and bars have filed three of their own lawsuits. The state’s problem: It has no scientific basis for its rules. Contact-tracing surveys show just 1.43 percent of COVID-19 cases were linked to bars and restaurants. Religious activities were traced to just 0.69 percent of cases. The overwhelming majority, 73.84 percent, were tied to private household gatherings.
“We just want the opportunity to earn an honest living,” says restaurateur Donald Swartz. That’s reasonable. Bars and restaurants follow sanitizing and social-distancing rules; they don’t want to kill their customers or themselves.
Meanwhile, Team Cuomo calls the lawsuits “frivolous.” Ha! These people are fighting for their livelihoods and those of the workers they employ. The governor and his aides may not care about them, but they’ll have to abide by the Constitution, like it or not.
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