Agudath Israel of America has filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals, seeking injunctive relief against a New York State executive order limiting shul attendance in “red zones” to a maximum of ten people. Agudah asked the court to block the implementation of that executive order on the grounds that the order is discriminatory and unconstitutional.
This filing follows the Agudah’s unsuccessful request in the lower court for a temporary restraining order (TRO) prior to Hoshana Rabbah, Shmini Atzeres, and Simchas Torah, and notes, “While these holidays have passed, the discrimination persists, as Orthodox Jews celebrate the Sabbath every weekend, from Friday sundown until Saturday sundown.”
The executive order at the heart of this lawsuit, which was clearly aimed at the Orthodox Jewish community, establishes stricter limitations on communal prayer than it does on “essential gatherings.” Yet as a core constitutional freedom, the Agudah brief argues, communal prayer should be considered an essential gathering by definition. Accordingly, it is unconstitutional to apply stricter standards to communal prayer than to other essential gatherings.
The Agudah has long championed appropriate health and safety rules in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as recently as earlier this week. But the Agudah contends that communal worship is possible while still protecting public health: “Religious worship is a fundamental right in this country,” said Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president. “Imposing an inflexible, hard and fast limitation of ten people in houses of worship regardless of the size of the facility simply makes no sense.”
“Of course,” he continued, “We are still hoping to work with the governor’s office and other government leaders on resolving this issue, just as we are with respect to the restrictions on school openings in our community. The last place we want to be is in court, litigating against New York State. Further, we must redouble our efforts to do all in our power to stay healthy.
“At the same time, however, we cannot just sit idly by when our most basic freedoms are inappropriately curtailed.”
Yesterday the Court of Appeals set November 3 as the hearing date on the Agudath Israel appeal.
The Agudath Israel brief is available by clicking here.