Andrew Cuomo has caved to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Fox News reports that New York’s Democrat governor was forced to alter his latest social distancing order, put out to curb the spread of COVID-19, in light of a lawsuit from the ACLU alleging that Cuomo was unlawfully favoring religious gatherings over secular ones.
The order, which was initially released by Cuomo on Thursday, relaxed New York’s lockdown order by allowing residents to gather in groups of 10 or fewer for the purpose of “religious service or ceremony” or for the purpose of “any Memorial Day service.”
The only condition was that “social distancing protocols and cleaning and disinfection” be followed at such events.
But the ACLU took issue with Cuomo’s mandate, and its New York chapter quickly filed a lawsuit arguing that the order was discriminatory. And it seems they won without even really trying.
Cuomo didn’t even wait for the lawsuit to get going; less than 24-hours after putting out his first order, he issued a second one, this time allowing 10 or fewer people to meet for “any lawful purpose or reason,” according to Fox.
The New York ACLU’s legal director, Christopher Dunn, who also served as the lead attorney on the case, celebrated the move in a statement published Friday.
“We’re glad to see the governor reverse course on his executive order from last night,” he wrote, according to Fox. “The right to protest and exercise free speech is the foundation of all our other liberties, and during a crisis is exactly when we need to be most vigilant about protecting it.”
Dunn went on: “Health experts, elected officials, and police officers all agree that people can be outside safely while practicing social distancing, and it’s critical that lawmakers create guidelines and direct law enforcement uniformly.”
The bigger issue
Of course, in the background here is a much larger issue: restricting church gatherings. Many Americans are upset that as the country begins to open back up, churches are still on the backburner.
Just this week, President Donald Trump said that he will try to help the situation by clarifying that houses of worship are “essential,” according to the Associated Press. This would presumably put churches in a category that would allow them to open back up sooner.
It is unclear, however, whether governors would have to follow such an order. Are more legal battles in store?