New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened to shut down churches and synagogues in New York City if they don’t “agree to follow the rules” regarding social distancing and mask use as part of the state’s response to COVID-19.
At a press conference on Monday, Cuomo spoke about his plans to close schools designated as being in New York City “hot spots” and issued a warning to churches and synagogues in those same areas.
“We know religious institutions have been a problem,” he argued, pointing to a screen showing pictures of Christian and Jewish gatherings. “You don’t see masks. And you see clear violations of social distancing.”
“If you do not agree to follow the rules, then we will close the institutions down. I am prepared to do that,” Cuomo said.
The Twitter account for Satmar Headquarters, a Hasidic Jewish community based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, explained that one of the pictures shown on the screen was not from recent weeks, as Cuomo had insinuated, but was more than a decade old. “This Picture is from the 2006 Funeral of the previous Satmar Grand Rebbe, 14 years ago!”
Joseph Esposito, a parishioner of St. Athanasius Church, Bensonhurst, also raised concerns that Cuomo was unfairly targeting houses of worship.
“It’s ridiculous. It absolutely makes no sense,” Esposito told The Tablet. “We go out of our way to make sure it is safe. The churches have been doing the right thing. We are being punished for our hard work. And why this is being done by ZIP code makes no sense. What if you live in one neighborhood and go to church in another?”
Cuomo listed his requirements for churches, adding: “If we’re going to keep religious institutions open, it can only be with two conditions. One, the community must agree, whether it’s the Jewish community, whether we’re talking about black churches, whether we’re talking about Roman Catholic churches, the religious community has to agree to the rules and they have to agree that they are going to follow the rules. And they have to agree that they are going to be a full partner in the enforcement of the rules.”