Judge denies Brooklyn diocese injunction against NY coronavirus restrictions

CNA Staff, Oct 19, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- A federal court ruled against the Diocese of Brooklyn on Friday in its case against new coronavirus restrictions which impose local limits on Mass attendance.

The diocese had sued the state of New York on Oct. 8 over new public health restrictions that limited the size of gatherings in certain “hot spots” around the state, or localities where the new coronavirus has been spreading. Certain churches in Brooklyn and Queens were effectively limited to holding 10 or 25 people for indoor Masses, under the new rules.

On Friday, a federal judge for the Eastern District of New York denied the diocese’s motion to halt the implementation of the restrictions. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said he was “extremely disappointed” by the ruling and is considering an appeal.

The diocese had argued that religious institutions had been wrongly singled out as “non essential,” and held churches to a higher standard of restrictions compared to other venues, including retail outlets.


“Despite this loss,” DiMarzio said, “we will continue to press our leaders for policies that consider the individual circumstances of houses of worship.”

“We will also continue to advocate for places of worship to be classified as essential, for there is nothing more necessary today than a community of believers, united in prayer, asking the Lord to end this pandemic.”

In his opinion on Friday, Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled that the state did not unlawfully single out religion for its restrictions, noting that its rules applied to other non-religious gatherings as well. New York also presented sufficient evidence to show that its decision was based on scientific and epidemiological considerations, he said.

If the court ruled in favor of the diocese and religious gatherings subsequently resulted in spreading the virus, Garaufis said, such a scenario would result in “avoidable death” and “overwhelming” damage; conversely, if the court sided wrongly with the state, it would bring a less grave consequence: “severely curtailed in-person ceremonies.”

Bishop DiMarzio, however, said that it was “a shame our parishioners in the red zones cannot return to Mass when the judge acknowledged we have done everything right.”

In a previous interview with CNA, Bishop DiMarzio said that the diocese had worked with public health officials to reopen churches safely in July; safety measures such as mask mandates and social distancing had been enforced, and churches were open only at 25% capacity.

“The proof of our compliance is the fact that we have not had any COVID outbreaks or significant cases in either our churches or schools,” he said on Friday in a written statement.

Despite refusing an injunction, Judge Garaufis praised the diocese on Friday for having “been an exemplar of community leadership” that “at each step…has been ahead of the curve, enforcing stricter safety protocols than the State required at the given moment.”

The new state rules established a color-code system for the severity of virus outbreaks within various localities; “red” zones represented the worst outbreaks and thus merited the strictest limits, while “orange” zones represented the next level of outbreak.

Churches in “red” zones are limited to 25% capacity or ten people, whichever number is smaller; churches in “orange” zones are limited to 33% capacity or 25 people, whichever number is smaller. Bishop DiMarzio told CNA that churches in the diocese are large and have been safely accommodating people at 25% capacity for months without a known outbreak.

Following the ruling, churches in the “red” zones will be closed, Bishop DiMarzio said, as the 10-person limit is “extremely difficult to implement because we never want to turn away worshippers.”

The state’s new rules affected religious and social gatherings and “non-essential” businesses such as gyms, barber shops, and hair salons, but some businesses including grocery stores were labeled “essential” and were not subject to the restrictions.

The rules presented a double-standard, DiMarzio told CNA on Friday before the court issued its ruling, arguing that religious gatherings are “essential” and should only be subject to reasonable health restrictions–such as the safety measures already enforced by churches for months.

“We are relegated to the sidelines, religion,” he said. “Religion is the problem of society, [according to] the way people think today.”

“In the past, you would think the non-profit sector, religion, was a pillar of the society along with the business community and with the government,” said DiMarzio.

“This was what held society together. Now, that kind of a thesis of how society works is long since gone, unfortunately,” he said.

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  1. I am sad to see this decision, but what did the Bishops expect after they rolled over and played dead for the state for all of these MONTHS??? The very liberal State of NY has every vested interest in keeping the church closed, and thus weakened financially. Who else, after all, is telling them infanticide is wrong, as is transgendering children, etc??The Bishops made the calculation to cooperate with the state for a very a grossly exaggerated danger, rather than stand up for their congregations and their access to the sacraments. You reap what you sow.

  2. A difficult time for all. Scientists predicted that our former lifestyle would be for ever changed by the coronavirus. As of this writing 30 some states are declared red zones. Hospitals and medical staffs are being overwhelmed. How can this happen? Well, it was an unfortunate chain of events.

    It may have begun for the US when the current administration ignored the warnings in early 2020 and dispelled the seriousness of this novel virus. As the year progressed and deaths from the COVID 19 infection spiked our government was AWOL in response. “It was a China hoax that will just going away”. That absence of leadership is mainly at fault defying scientific facts. It continues to yet today with Trump calling Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the Pence virus taskforce and a worldwide renowned scientist, “a disaster” and if he, Trump had listened to Fauci “instead of 200,000 dead it would have doubled”. That launched a diatribe of lies, misdirection and a moral disgrace defying all logic. Today, Trump continues his onslaught of COVID infections by holding large rallies where many, if not all, break the CDC rules. How can we recover from this obvious divisive and destructive failure effecting our way of life and our democracy?

    First, Pray frequently for divine intervention.
    Second, VOTE! If we can withstand the effort to suppress the vote we will have reached an opportunity to advance democracy.
    Third, follow the rules of the diminished CDC… wearing a mask when in public, social distancing, avoid large crowds and good hygiene.
    Fourth, get tested frequently. Bringing the virus home can be dangerous to others especially our older relatives at home.
    Fifth, get involved with religious and political groups who have the mission to reunite and restore our nation and provide leadership to that end.

    The pandemic respects no boundaries. It infects many who encounter it. Until we get a vaccine and the trend shows a flattening we must follow our state governors and state leaders, like NY Governor Cuomo, who continues a hands on approach. Remember, we are all in this together!

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