In a briefing held Monday morning, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called out religious gatherings as dangerous threats to the community, and threatened to close religious institutions if they do not begin to obey governmental orders.
“If you do not agree to enforce the rules, then we’ll close the institutions down,” Cuomo said. “I am prepared to do that.”
The briefing was to address recent spikes in COVID cases throughout New York. Cuomo heavily emphasized the need for enforcement. Under Cuomo’s new COVID strategy, the state will be taking over the enforcement of government rules in local hotspot areas.
In the hour-long briefing, Cuomo specifically focused on the role of Christian churches and Jewish synagogues.
“We know there have been mass gatherings going on in concert with religious institutions in these communities for weeks. For weeks. I don’t mean little violations. You’re only supposed to have 50, they had 55. I’m talking about you’re only supposed to have 50 outdoors, they had 1,000.
Pictures appeared on the screen assisting Cuomo in his presentation of New York’s current situation with COVID. “These are pictures from the past couple of weeks, and these are just emblematic,” he said. “You’ve all seen pictures like this for weeks.”
He said that religious gatherings “raise the greatest potential” for infection.
“Where we these pictures from?” he asked the room.
The answer came from somewhere off-camera: “The one on the right is more recent than the one on the left.”
“Okay,” Cuomo said. “But they’re in the recent past.”
These pictures, however, were in fact from 2006.
Cuomo demanded that churches and synagogues agree to two conditions in order to stay open: 1) to agree to, follow, and enforce COVID-19 rules, and 2) to have real enforcement measures in place.
“If you do not agree to enforce the rules, we’ll close the institutions down. I am prepared to do that….If I do not have the agreement from the religious community directly as a starting point then we will close down the religious institutions.”
Later on in the briefing, Cuomo took questions from those in the room and gave more specifics about what the governmental enforcement of COVID-19 rules in religious institutions might look like. He gave an example of a task force leader assigning a local official member to keep watch at the entrance of St. Peter’s Church:
“I’m the person running the task force. I say you’re going to be stationed in front of St. Peter’s Church. The capacity is 150. You stand at the front door. When they go over 75, you close the door and call me, and if you have any problem, the state police officer is down the block and he’ll come help you. That’s your job. You are from the Department of Health, Nassau County, but you are assigned to a state task force.”
The governor acknowledged the “uncomfortable” situation and referred to his 30-year personal relationship with the orthodox community.
“Personally, I don’t want to have this conversation,” he said. “It’s a difficult conversation, and you’re right on the line of government intrusion on religion. So it’s hard.”
Governor Cuomo spoke of his plans to meet with religious leaders in the orthodox community today to speak directly with them about the situation.