Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Covidiot News - Playing the Persecuted Victims Card

Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn protested new restrictions put in place this week on synagogues, schools, restaurants and nonessential businesses.
Credit: Mark Abramson, The New York Times
Cuomo’s Restrictions on Synagogues in Virus Hot Spots Can Go Forward - The New York Times.

A federal judge in Brooklyn has ruled that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's restrictions to limit the spread of the corona virus do not violate the right to free exercise of religion for Orthodox Jews.

As though to demonstrate that Evangelical Christian covidiots were not the only religious fundamentalists keen to help spread the coronavirus as widely and quickly as possible, a group of ultra-Orthodox American Jews calling themselves Agudath Israel of America, had sued Gov. Cuomo over his plans to restrict gatherings in areas with high and rising Covid-19 cases. These infection hot-spots include zones with a high Jewish population. The order sets new capacity limits on places of worship, depending on the level of infection in the zone.

The maximum number of people allowed to attend a place of worship is 10 (or 25% of capacity) in high infection-rate zones and 20 (or 50% of capacity) in lower infection-rate zones. As with Christians churches, synagogues have become major centres of Covid-19 infections and services have become super-spreader events.

The federal judge, Kiyo A. Matsumoto of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, noting that the order also shut down nonessential businesses and schools, ruled that the measures were not intended to target a religious minority and were therefore not unconstitutional, as Agudath Israel of America had argued. She asked, “How can we ignore the compelling state interest in protecting the health and life of all New Yorkers?”

Playing the persecuted victims card, Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella group with affiliated synagogues from all across America, had argued that the order disproportionately affected Jews who are forbidden by their religion from driving during religious holidays, so can't travel to synagogues in less-restricted zones. Some might think that moving people from high-infection zones, to lower infection zones during a serious pandemic, was a bad idea, but in effect, Agudath Israel were arguing, like many evangelical Christian church leaders have argued, that their religious rights should prevail over the rights of ordinary Americans to an environment where the risk of catching Covid-19 had been minimised; that their religious rights outweigh the right to life of unknown numbers of New Yorkers.

Rejecting this argument, Judge Matsumoto said the rules were not motivated by an intention to discriminate against Orthodox Jews and that the religious burdens caused by the restrictions were outweighed by the need to stop “the most significant health crisis in living memory." In other words, Orthodox Jews, like evangelical Christians, are not entitled to special privileges which allow them to risk the lives of other people for their own selfish religious needs.

The new rules went into effect last Friday and now mean anyone who violates the order against mass gatherings may be subject to a $15,000 fine per day.

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