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Brooklyn Diocese Slaps Cuomo With a Lawsuit for Restricting Church Capacity in COVID Hotspots

Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Forest Hills is in an orange zone, where the number of parishioners in church at one time is limited to 25 people or 33 percent capacity (Wikimedia Commons)

Oct. 9, 2020 By Allie Griffin

The Diocese of Brooklyn — which also covers Queens — has slapped Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State of New York with a lawsuit for allegedly violating its First Amendment right to practice religion.

The Diocese filed the lawsuit Thursday in Brooklyn federal court in response to Cuomo’s order restricting the capacity at houses of worship in the parts of Queens and Brooklyn that are seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Under the order, houses of worship are limited to serve 25 percent capacity or 10 people maximum in state-issued red zones and 33 percent capacity or 25 people maximum in orange zones.

The restrictions, which also closed down religious and public schools in the red and orange zones, went into effect Thursday.

The Diocese argues that Catholic Churches throughout Brooklyn and Queens have had no significant COVID-19 cases and has played “an inconsequential role” in the COVID-19 spikes. Despite this, the state “arbitrarily” reduced capacities at churches, Diocese leaders say.

“The executive orders this week have left us with no other option than to go to court,” said Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn.

He said the restrictions impede Catholics’ right to worship.

DiMarzio also said that many churches within the Diocese have the size necessary to safely accommodate worshippers following the six feet social distancing protocols.

The Diocese has spent time, money and energy to implement all the COVID-19 regulations to keep parishioners in Queens and Brooklyn safe from the virus, he added.

The attorney representing the Diocese said the state restrictions deny Catholics their most fundamental right. The lawsuit asks the court to block the state order as applied to Diocese churches.

“This religious community will be denied its most fundamental right — the free exercise of religion — for no legitimate reason whatsoever,” attorney Randy Mastro said. “That’s why we’ve gone to court — to prevent this injustice from occurring.”

An Orthodox Jewish organization has also sued Cuomo over the capacity restrictions for synagogues, according to the New York Post.

The restrictions affect multiple Catholic churches in Queens hotspots. Bishop DiMarzio said the restrictions are disrespectful to Catholics in the area.

“We vehemently disagree with the capacity limits being placed on us,” he said. “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.”

Queens Catholic Churches in a red zone, where they are limited to 10 people or 25 percent capacity include:

Our Lady of the Angelus Parish, located at 63-63 98th St. in Rego Park

Queen of Peace Parish, located at 141-36 77th Rd. in Kew Gardens Hills

St. Mary’s Star of the Sea and St. Gertrude Parish, located at 19-20 New Haven Ave. in Far Rockaway

Queens Catholic Churches in an orange zone, where they are limited to 25 people or 33 percent capacity include:

Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, located at 110-06 Queens Blvd. in Forest Hills

St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish, located at 150-75 Goethals Ave. in Kew Gardens Hills

Churches and other houses of worship in yellow zones are restricted to 50 percent capacity levels.

COVID-19 Cluster zones (COVID-19 Zone Finder)

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