New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) recently defended his decision to support mass protests while limiting religious gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic — a move that a federal judge recently shot down — arguing the two are like “apples and oranges.”
What are the details?
“The protests were an entirely different reality, a national phenomenon that was not something that the government could just say, go away,” the mayor argued during an interview on CNN. As for religious gatherings, “it’s really apples and oranges,” he said.
He then claimed that New York’s religious leaders were “the first to say it was not time to bring back services” to justify his point.
The mayor’s line of defense raises the question: Has he ever read the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution?
It goes as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (emphases mine)
Evidently, the Framers believed the right to protest and the right to exercise religion were closely related enough to warrant shared space in the Bill of Rights.
The “apples and oranges” comparison doesn’t quite seem to fit.
What’s the background?
Last week, a federal judge ruled that de Blasio, along with Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his attorney general, were wrong to limit religious gatherings during the pandemic while at the same time supporting protests against racial injustice.
U.S. District Judge Gary L. Sharpe then issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the New York leaders from ordering arbitrary limits on religious gatherings, saying that to do so while supporting protests amounts to “preferential treatment.”
Under New York’s reopening plan, churches and synagogues were confined to 25% occupancy, while “nonessential” businesses were granted 50% occupancy and “essential” businesses 100% occupancy.
Then, as protests erupted following the death of George Floyd, Cuomo and de Blasio publicly announced their support.
“Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio could have just as easily discouraged protests, short of condemning their message, in the name of public health and exercised discretion to suspend enforcement for public safety reasons instead of encouraging what they knew was a flagrant disregard of the outdoor limits and social distancing rules,” Sharpe wrote in the ruling. “They could have also been silent. But by acting as they did, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio sent a clear message that mass protests are deserving of preferential treatment.”