FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 8, 2020
DIOCESE OF BROOKLYN FILES FEDERAL LAWSUIT AGAINST NEW YORK GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO FOR VIOLATION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn today has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the State of New York, on the basis of the violation of their fundamental First Amendment right, the free exercise of religion. The Diocese has retained esteemed litigation attorney Randy M. Mastro, a partner in the New York office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, to represent them in this case.
The lawsuit is in response to the New York State executive order issued this week that arbitrarily reduces capacity at Catholic Churches throughout Brooklyn and Queens, locations of which have played an inconsequential role in the hot spot zone COVID-19 spikes. Prior to the churches reopening on July 5 for weekend Masses, after being closed for Mass for 16 weeks, the Diocese worked with former New York City Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Esposito to develop a safe reopening plan for all churches to keep the faithful safe from the effects of the virus.
“The executive orders this week have left us with no other option than to go to court. Our churches have the capacity to accommodate many worshippers and to reset our attendance capacity to 10 people maximum in the red zone, and 25 people in the orange zone, when we have had no significant cases, impedes our right to worship and cannot stand,” said Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn. “The State has completely disregarded the fact that our safety protocols have worked and it is an insult to once again penalize all those who have made the safe return to Church work.”
“Public officials have a sacred duty to do right by those they serve, but this is simply wrong and wrong-headed,” said Randy Mastro, the attorney representing the Diocese. “If this latest executive order stands, parishioners won’t be able to go to Mass this Sunday, even though the Diocese has done everything right to ensure safe conditions in its churches. Thus, this religious community will be denied its most fundamental right — the free exercise of religion –for no legitimate reason whatsoever. That’s why we’ve gone to court — to prevent this injustice from occurring — so we’re asking the court to block this executive order from going into effect as applied to the Diocese’s churches.”
Since returning to Mass, the faithful of the Diocese of Brooklyn have fully abided by the rules, including wearing masks during Mass and sitting six feet part, with a row roped off in between and standing six feet apart on the Communion line. The pastors have installed hand sanitizers at the entrances and have ensured Churches are cleaned and sanitized after Masses. A tremendous amount of time has been devoted, as well as resources and expense, to enforce these strict requirements to help ensure the safety of all.
“We vehemently disagree with the capacity limits being placed on us. They are disrespectful to Catholics who have only been abiding by the rules. We do not agree with such limitations because they completely disregard the fact that our safety protocols have worked,” said DiMarzio.