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Judge Strikes NY Restrictions on Houses of Worship - Critic Says Cuomo Begged Court to 'Stop Me Before I Discriminate Again!'

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A federal district court judge on Tuesday issued an order permanently blocking New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's discriminatory limits on Orthodox Jewish synagogues.

The ruling came after Cuomo—in a peculiar move—asked the judge to rule against him and end the restrictions. 

"We welcome Governor Cuomo's surrender, even if it took him way too long to figure out he was acting illegally," said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at the non-profit law firm Becket.

The judge's order applies to all houses of worship in red and orange "zones" in New York, and is one of the first in the country to block percentage-of-occupancy limits on worship attendance.

Supreme Court Ruled Caps in Synagogues Discriminatory

The decision comes after the Supreme Court found Cuomo's 10- and 25-person caps on synagogues were discriminatory. Other lower courts also ruled against him, and just days ago, a New York Times exposé revealed that nine top New York State health officials resigned after the governor told doctors to make up scientific justifications for his COVID lockdown orders. 

Cuomo's retreat, which covered not only the 10- and 25-person caps but also the 25 percent and 33 percent occupancy limits, also came as he faced the prospect of Dr. Howard Zucker, New York's commissioner of health, having to testify on the witness stand.

The judge's decision to grant Cuomo's request to end his own restrictions caps a series of rebukes for the New York state chief executive. In November, the Supreme Court ruled against his restrictions, saying, "even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue in this case, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty." 

The justices of the high court also emphasized that "there is no evidence that the applicants have contributed to the spread of COVID-19," and, to the contrary, that they "have admirable safety records."

"It's not every day you see a governor beg a federal district court 'Stop me before I discriminate again!' but that is exactly what Governor Cuomo asked for," said Rassbach. 

"The governor is desperately trying to avoid testimony showing that his orders shutting down synagogues and churches weren't based on public health but on politics. The court's order is good news for the synagogues, churches, and other houses of worship of New York," Rassbach said.

"And we hope he learned something along the way. If he writes another COVID book, maybe he can give it the title I Did It My Way—And Boy Was I Wrong!"

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