New York

Jewish Camp Owners Sue Gov. Cuomo Over Sleepaway Ban Order

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A consortium of Jewish Orthodox sleepaway camps has brought a lawsuit against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the state's decision to ban overnight camps this summer due to health and safety concerns amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Association of Jewish Camp Operators filed the lawsuit in court on Thursday. Between its camps, the AJCO says it provides overnight camp services to more than 40,000.

"The need for Jewish overnight camps is particularly true this summer, after several months of shutdowns of the yeshiva schools, to provide for the structured Jewish learning and living offered by the Jewish overnight camps," the complaint reads, in part.

Lawyers for AJCO argue that Gov. Cuomo has used "de facto exemption" decisions to allow large gatherings, such as the ongoing protests against police brutality. The group does not condemn the protests, but says they want the same treatment when the governor makes decisions like the one to keep overnight camps closed.

"[Cuomo's] statewide closure of all Jewish overnight camps this summer violates Plaintiff's constitutional rights of the free exercise of religion and the fundamental rights of parents to control the religious education and upbringing of their children," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit against Gov. Cuomo was first reported by the New York Post.

Sleepaway camps were banned one week ago. New York State Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker made the decision, citing the risks of COVID-19 and the difficulty in enforcing social distancing and mask use.

"And while infection rates are declining, we need to proceed with caution and take every step possible to avoid undoing all the progress New Yorkers have made in bending the curve and reopening the state safety and responsibly," Zucker said.

AJCO proposed a safety plan back on May 10, which it says was approved by doctors and medical professionals to address the concerns of camp safety. They also argue that overnight camps "are uniquely able to lock down and maintain a highly controlled environment."

Gov. Cuomo's office did not immediately respond to comment Friday afternoon.

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