New York's Covid restrictions on places of worship are discriminatory - appeals court

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo(Photo: Fox News)

A federal appeals court has ruled against New York State in a legal battle over Covid restrictions on places of worship. 

Jewish groups and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn took on the state after it imposed stringent limits on attendance during the pandemic. 

In October, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo mandated that places of worship in coronavirus hotspots could allow no more than 10 people at their gatherings, or 25% of their capacity, whichever was lower.

In lower risk areas, the cap was set at a third of capacity or 25 people. 

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn was joined by Orthodox Jewish group Agudath Israel and two synagogues in suing the state.

In November, the US Supreme Court found in their favor and temporarily blocked New York's Covid-19 restrictions on houses of worship, arguing that they "strike at the very heart of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty."

Now in a further ruling on the case on Monday, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has said that an attendance cap "discriminates against religion."

Judge Michael Park said it was the court's opinion that "no public interest is served by maintaining an unconstitutional policy when constitutional alternatives are available to achieve the same goal."

Commenting on the ruling, religious liberty law firm Becket said Cuomo should "stop trying to restrict synagogues, churches, and mosques."

"Gov. Cuomo should read the writing on the wall and let New York join the 33 states that do not cap or put percentage limits on in-person worship," it said. 

Attorney Avi Schick, representing Agudath Israel, said the verdict "will be felt way beyond the Covid context."

"It is a clear statement ... that government can't disfavor religious conduct merely because it sees no value in religious practice," he said.