Members of NYC Orthodox Jewish community protest COVID-19 restrictions

Northeast

NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — For two consecutive nights, violent protests have erupted in one Brooklyn neighborhood, as members of Borough Park’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community voice their anger over a crackdown on religious gatherings, part of a new effort to lower a recent spike in COVID-19 cases. 

The protests are happening in an area that’s now recording some of the state’s highest numbers, about five times the average.

The new mandate from Gov. Andrew Cuomo is closing schools and non-essential businesses in high-risk areas, while limiting religious gatherings to no more than 10 congregants.

In a new development Thursday, both the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and a prominent Orthodox Jewish organization filed suit to block those restrictions.

Now experts fear New York City, once the nation’s epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic before flattening the curve, faces the strong possibility of a second wave ushered in by protests in places like Borough Park.

While hundreds of rabbis and faith leaders have signed a statement denouncing the protests, other groups believe the hard cap on the number of attendees allowed at faith gatherings is an infringement on freedom of religion.

“It’s protected by the First Amendment,” Mike McDonald, a spokesman for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, argued in an interview with NewsNation. “I think all people of good faith want to cut down on the spread of COVID, but holding them to a different standard than you do to other groups- that’s entirely unfair.”

At least two people have reported being assaulted during the protests in Brooklyn, where attendees — all men, most without face coverings — have chased off sheriff’s deputies and burned masks in the street while chanting “Jewish lives matter.” 

No arrests have been made, but the city promises to begin tougher enforcement of fines up to $15,000 for organizing large gatherings and up to $1,000 for failing to wear a mask.

Of the violence, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a briefing Thursday, “Violence is unacceptable. Regardless of who commits it, it’s unacceptable.”

What’s unacceptable to the governor is denial of science, what he’s referred to as “data-driven, life-saving measures” to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Why are they so upset about the current rule when there was a previous rule that was more dramatic?” Gov. Cuomo wondered aloud during a conference call Thursday. “Because the previous rules were never enforced. Facts, common sense, self-preservation, all make the argument to follow the rules. They are now inarguable.”

But they will be argued in court. The lawsuits over the new coronavirus restrictions are expected to go before a judge Friday.

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