N.Y. Opens Door to Small Religious Gatherings - Word&Way

N.Y. Opens Door to Small Religious Gatherings

NEW YORK (AP) — New York will allow small religious gatherings starting Thursday (May 21) as the state gradually loosens pandemic restrictions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Religious gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed statewide as long as participants wear masks and practice social distancing. The state also is allowing drive-in and parking lot services. Weddings will count as religious ceremonies.

The state will work with an Interfaith Advisory Council to discuss proposals to safely bring back religious services. The council consists of dozens of religious leaders, including Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Calvin Butts, senior pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City.

“I understand their desire to get to religious ceremonies as soon as possible. As a former altar boy, I get it,” Cuomo said. “But we need to find out how to do it and do it safely and do it smartly. The last thing we want to do is have a religious ceremony that winds up having more people infected.”

A man wearing a protective mask during the coronavirus pandemic crosses Amsterdam Avenue on May 20 in New York. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

The guidelines for small religious gatherings came a day after Cuomo said the state will allow Memorial Day ceremonies with up to 10 people, even though nonessential gatherings have been barred in New York since March. The New York Civil Liberties Union said both announcements raise constitutional concerns.

“We agree small events where people observe social distancing should be permitted, but that has to apply to all First Amendment events, regardless of message and regardless of whether religious or political,” Christopher Dunn, the group’s legal director, wrote in an email.