MONSEY (VINnews/Sandy Eller) – Two days after audio emerged of Governor Andrew Cuomo explaining that his latest restrictions affecting most of the state’s large Jewish communities were imposed out of fear, a group of Monsey area shuls are taking the governor and the State of New York to court for violating their constitutional rights.
Congregation_Yesheos_Yakov,_by_1 (1)The federal lawsuit was filed on Wednesday night by attorney Ron Coleman on behalf of Rabbi Moshe Rosner of Congregation Yeshuas Yaakov, Rabbi Samuel Teitelbaum of Congregation Oholei Shem D’Nitra and Rabbi Chaim Leibish Rottenberg of Congregation Netzach Yisroel. The suit alleges that Cuomo’s latest action, which shuttered non-essential businesses, shuls and schools, does not meet the constitutional requirements for crafting the most minimally invasive restrictions when religious liberties are affected.
Cuomo offered a glimpse of the broad regulations affecting the state’s color-coded hotspot zones during an October 6th conference call with community leaders just hours before they were imposed. When asked by Rabbi Yaakov Bender of Yeshiva Darchei Torah to explain the total school shutdown instead of crafting protocols that would allow students to stay in class, Cuomo deviated from his months-long policy of using science to guide his COVID response and admitted that his new approach had been designed to address a more emotional aspect of the pandemic.
“This is not a policy being written by a scalpel; this is a policy being cut by a hatchet,” said Cuomo. “It’s just very blunt. It’s out of fear. People see the numbers going up – ‘Close everything! Close everything!’ It’s not the best way to do it, but it is a fear-driven response. The virus scares people. Hopefully we get the numbers down … the anxiety comes down, and then we can have a smarter, more-tailored approach.”
But that stance directly contradicts federal law, argued the lawsuit, noting that the CDC’s far less restrictive social distancing guidelines are effective against COVID and that targeting houses of worship while allowing secular gatherings in businesses and institutions constitutes a religious liberties violation.
The lawsuit came less than a year after Cuomo paid a personal visit to Rabbi Rottenberg in the wake of a horrifying Chanukah night machete attack in his home. Just days later, Rabbi Rottenberg was invited to give the invocation at Cuomo’s State of the State message in Albany where praised Cuomo as a governor whose actions proved his solidarity with the Jewish community.
“We ask you, Merciful Father, bless our Governor who has committed himself to protect our way of life and broaden security,” said Rabbi Rottenberg in his invocation. “Guide him in eradicating hate at its source and across all platforms, and help him promote and instill the values of tolerance and appreciation among all our neighborhoods and communities, who may look different, talk in a different language or raise and educate their children according to their unique ancestral traditions.”
The lawsuit against Cuomo came as no surprise. According to Hamodia (https://bit.ly/2H1kaca), attorney Ron Coleman notified Cuomo last week that legal action would be forthcoming if the colored-zone restrictions were not repealed, categorizing the new gubernatorial orders as “a particular offensive abuse of power” that had “no scientific or epidemiological justification.” Other legal actions filed in regard to the latest restrictions include separate motions for temporary restraining orders filed by Agudath Israel of America and the Brooklyn diocese, both of which were denied. A suit filed by Torturro Law, located within a red zone on the Bensonhurst/Midwood border, has yet to be heard.