RFI urges Cuomo to stop “scapegoating” Orthodox Jews, files court brief supporting Jewish students

October 23, 2020

Seeking to protect the religious rights and safety of New York’s Orthodox Jewish population, the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) has sent an open letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo urging him to stop “fostering anti-Semitic attitudes towards Orthodox Jews” with his rhetoric and actions. In a related development, RFI’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team filed a friend of the court brief in a New York federal district court in support of Jewish girls adversely affected by measures Cuomo has taken against their school.

Over the past few weeks, Cuomo has ratcheted up his blame of Orthodox Jews and their religious practices for localized upticks in COVID-19 infections after several months in which New York had one of the nation’s lowest infection rates. Cuomo has issued a plan to shut down 100 public schools and 200 private ones in 9 areas with large Jewish populations. 

Rev. Dr. Andrew Bennett, Director of RFI’s North America Action Team, issued the open letter to Cuomo, which reads, in part:

With respect, Governor Cuomo, by targeting the Orthodox Jewish community with government action and confrontational public rhetoric, you are creating a public mood of hostility and scapegoating of the Orthodox Jews. In short, your comments are anti-Semitic and are fostering anti-Semitic attitudes towards Orthodox Jews in New York state.

History tells us that during times of fear and social instability, religious minorities suffer, and Jews understand this all too well…I urge you to treat the religious communities in your state with respect as partners and fellow citizens rather than as problems. And I urge you to use language in public that has the effect of promoting public order and harmony rather than hostility and scapegoating; to forgo government actions targeting Jewish neighborhoods and institutions; and to ensure that your actions in addressing the epidemic be based on empirical evidence rather than fear.

The friend of the court brief RFI’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team filed in a New York federal district court supports a lawsuit by Jewish students whose school has been disrupted by Cuomo’s shutdown plan. The brief, filed in support of the plaintiffs’ motion for a restraining order against Cuomo’s plan, argues that the New York governor’s actions “are expressly and admittedly targeted at Orthodox Jewish communities…this type of religious bigotry is anathema to the First Amendment.” The brief explains that RFI’s Islam team supports these Jewish students because “the Islamic faith teaches Muslims to want for others what they want for themselves, and…supporting the Jewish school is in the interest of the common good.”