A federal court on Thursday will hear the Diocese of Brooklyn’s case against New York’s new restrictions on public gatherings.
The diocese is challenging the state’s new caps on attendance at indoor Masses at some churches in the diocese, because of reported spikes in coronavirus cases in parts of Brooklyn and Queens. The diocese announced Wednesday that it had received the court date, after requesting an expedited hearing last week.
Depending on the reported severity of new coronavirus outbreaks in Brooklyn and Queens, indoor Masses are limited to just 10 people in some areas, and 25 people in some other areas, according to the new rules announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Oct. 6.
The diocese immediately filed a lawsuit after the new rules were announced, saying that more than two dozen churches would effectively have to close.
Overall, 28 diocesan churches were affected by Gov. Cuomo’s new order, the diocese said on Wednesday.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said on Wednesday that churches should be held to a different standard than non-essential businesses. The lawsuit alleges that businesses deemed by the government to be “essential” are not subject to these new restrictions, and even “non-essential” businesses in some areas would not have to submit to the restrictions.
On Wednesday, DiMarzio said that “going to Church should absolutely be considered essential,” and that churches shouldn’t be “grouped with non-essential services like theaters and recreational facilities.”
The diocese agreed to virus protocol with public health officials and has been faithful in implementing safety measures since July, when indoor Masses resumed, the bishop said. Attendees were required to wear masks and families to sit at least six feet apart, among other stipulations.
DiMarzio noted that churches have been open at 25% capacity for months with no issues.
“All we are seeking is for our faithful of Brooklyn and Queens to be allowed back to Church and the ability to receive the Holy Eucharist,” he said.
Gov. Cuomo admitted that the new restrictions were “most impactful on houses of worship,” the diocese said in its lawsuit.
It called the rules a “wholesale infringement of a fundamental First Amendment right—the free exercise of religion,” and warned that the rules will “prevent parishioners in Brooklyn and Queens from being able to attend mass.”
Furthermore, the diocese said in the lawsuit, “the churches will be placed in the untenable position” of having to curb attendance “at Sunday mass and other foundational Catholic services such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals.”
Mass gatherings in violation of the state order could result in sponsors being fined $15,000.