Brooklyn lawyer sues NY Governor Cuomo over lockdown order, cites religious freedom

In a lawsuit filed on March 27, 2020, Brooklyn attorney Lee Nigen sued New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, claiming the governor’s ban on large social gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic violates his rights to practice his Jewish faith. Nigen’s lawyer claimed that Cuomo’s actions could set “precedents with horrifying consequences,” according to the Washington Examiner

Key Players

Lee Nigen is a lawyer based in New York City offering “relentless, quality legal services to New Yorkers.” Nigen alleged that Cuomo’s ban on nonessential service operations and travel raised concerns that he and others could be arrested for leaving their homes and contributed to general feelings of increased anxiety. 

On March 20, 2020, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) issued a statewide lockdown and ordered the closure of nonessential businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19. On March 23, the governor signed an order placing an indefinite ban on large gatherings. Cuomo said the state “did everything [it] could do” in response to the pandemic, according to The New York Post

Further Details

On March 30, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) warned that the city would shut down synagogues and any other religious places that fail to comply with Cuomo’s lockdown order and gathering ban. In the weeks leading up to this warning, there had been reports of mass gatherings throughout Brooklyn and other Jewish neighborhoods, while, on March 20, six major Orthodox Jewish leaders had urged their followers to unite against religious gatherings, according to the Associated Press

“Everyone has personal freedom, and everyone has personal liberty, and I’ll always protect that,” Cuomo told reporters from the state capitol following the lockdown announcement. “But everyone also has a responsibility to everyone else.” 

As of May 5, 2020, there were no reported incidents of such shutdowns in New York City.

Nigen’s lawsuit, filed in a Brooklyn federal court, argues that Cuomo’s lockdown order is too restrictive. 

“Mr. Cuomo’s threat that his directives will be enforced by law enforcement cause Mr. Nigen to fear arrest if he attempts to travel for any other purpose other than getting medical attention or obtaining groceries, thus impermissibly chilling his exercise of his constitutional rights to travel,” the suit charges. 

Many took to Facebook to express their opposition to Nigen’s suit. 

“Your rights stop when the purpose is to protect the greater good,” one Facebook user wrote. “During a horrific time for the country, you feel the need to file a lawsuit? As a Jew, I’m ashamed you use our religion for this nonsense. And then you wonder why people hate us? Go ahead- ignore the warnings, spread the virus in your community and let’s see how many Jews are dead thereafter you schmuck.”

In response, Nigen had this simple message: “To those who ill consider my dissent, I still wish you well, and treasure the right you have to express your opinion.” He added, “To the extent that fleeting flame [sic] has come upon me at this time of plague and panic, there is only one favor I ask of all: Be well and be free.”


Lawsuit under review by New York state

As of May 5, the Office of the New York State Attorney General was still reviewing Nigen’s suit, and Cuomo had yet to institute a travel ban.