Synagogue, church win federal court challenge against Cuomo

They will now return to the 50-percent-capacity limit that was in place before the New York governor’s zone plan.


Brooklyn’s District Court ruled on Tuesday against an executive order by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo enforcing capacity limits on houses of worship in areas with high COVID-19 cases.

The advocacy organization Agudath Israel and Brooklyn Catholic Diocese challenged the executive order in an appeal for an emergency injunction from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“There was never any legitimate reason to treat religious worship less favorably than office work and shopping,” said Avi Schick, the lawyer who represented Agudath Israel in the case. “We are grateful that religious practice has been restored to its constitutionally mandated place as an essential activity.”

Cuomo’s executive order — first put into effect in October — limited building capacity at houses of worship to 25% in “red zones” where positive coronavirus test rates were high, and 33% in “orange zones” where positivity rates were lower.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Cuomo’s limitations in November, saying that it favored non-religious establishments such as liquor stores and considered them “essential,” while only imposing capacity restrictions on houses of worship.

Restrictions that forced prayer services to have 10 people or less were eliminated completely.

In December, a federal appeals court ruled that the capacity limits on houses of worship constituted a violation of religious liberty. The case was then sent back to the district court, which on Tuesday also ruled against that the governor’s percentage capacity limits.

Houses of worship will now return to the 50% capacity limit that was in place before Cuomo’s zone plan.