Photo Credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC via Wikimedia
Ruth Fiedler, Rhana Rosenberg, Irene Booron, Minnie Wiener, Mary Weiss, Hub Berkowitz, Sandy Wirten in summer camp, circa 1937.

The Association of Jewish Camp Operators on Thursday filed a lawsuit with the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York against Governor Andrew M. Cuomo for “declaratory and injunctive relief from constitutional deprivations,” after the state had announced it a ban on sleepaway camps this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit relates that “for more than one hundred years, Jewish overnight camps have provided an immersive, seamless Jewish experience to their campers whose parents choose Jewish camping for their children. Every summer, tens of thousands of Jewish children in New York State benefit from the 24/7 immersive camp experience which offers them the opportunity to not only observe their religious practices but to live them. Jewish overnight camps foster a sense of cultural identity and instill traditional religious values in Jewish children. In Jewish overnight camps, they jointly recite prayers three times a day. Part of every day is devoted to religious study. They recite blessings over the food they eat throughout the day. They observe the weekly Shabbos. They learn about Jewish history, Jewish customs and Jewish heroes.”

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In fact, according to the plaintiffs, “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.”

On June 12, 2020, Defendant announced that overnight camps would be closed for the summer of 2020 under his COVID-19 orders, without making any exceptions for Jewish overnight camps, notwithstanding that these overnight camps involve core religious exercise.

In contrast, Defendant has made a broad First Amendment exception from his COVID-19 orders for First Amendment activities that he favors. In particular, Defendant has created a de facto exemption from his COVID-19 orders for mass demonstrations, explicitly proclaiming agreement with the message invoked by the protestors and actively encouraging the mass gatherings. Defendant has done so even though these mass protests pose greater risks of the transmission of COVID-19 than do Jewish overnight camps.

Defendant also has allowed a wide array of similar, secular activities to remain open, such as numerous “non-essential” businesses and entities, child care services for “essential” workers, summer day camps, and special education services, provided that such entities follow health-related guidelines issued by the New York Department of Health to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

Unlike all of those entities, Defendant has not allowed Jewish overnight camps to adopt and implement health-related guidelines that would permit them to operate while balancing the twin goals of health and safety with the desire to reopen New York.

Finally:

Defendant’s statewide closure of all Jewish overnight camps this summer violates Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights of the free exercise of religion and the fundamental rights of parents to control the religious education and upbringing of their children, guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Article III, § 3 of the New York Constitution.

This action seeks immediate judicial relief from Defendant’s statewide ban on all Jewish overnight camps by way of a temporary restraining order, followed by a preliminary and permanent injunction and a declaratory judgment that the challenged regulation is unconstitutional and void because it deprives Plaintiffs of their constitutional rights without constitutionally-sufficient justification.

The Association of Jewish Camp Operators includes the following summer camps:

Agudath Israel Camp Division; Camp Achim; Camp Adas Yereim; Camp Agudah; Camp Agudah Toronto; Camp Ahavas Yisroel Viznitz; Camp Arugath Habosem; Camp Bais Esther; Camp Bais Yaakov; Camp Belz; Camp Beth Jacob; Camp Bnei Shiimon Yisroel; Camp Bnos; Camp Bnos Belz; Camp Bnos Sanz; Camp Bnos Skwere; Camp Bnos Yakov; Camp Bonim; Camp Boyan; Camp Chayei Sura; Camp Chayl Miriam; Camp Darkei Emunah; Camp Dina; Camp Dora Golding; Camp Emunah; Camp Fay-Gah; Camp Gan Yisroel; Camp Ger; Camp Gila; Camp HASC; Camp Hedvah; Camp Horim; Camp Kavunas Halev; Camp Kehilath Yakov; Camp Keren Shlomo; Camp Kochavim; Camp Kibbutz Hamesivtos; Camp Ma-Na-Vu; Camp Machaneinu; Camp Mikdash Melech; Camp Mogen Avraham; Camp Morris; Camp Munk; Camp Nu Yu Chalet Vim; Camp Ohel Baruch; Camp Ohr Shraga; Camp Rav Tuv; Camp Rayim; Camp Romimu; Camp Shalva; Camp Shearith Hapletah; Camp Shira; Camp Simcha; Camp Silver Lake; Camp Simcha; Camp Skwere; Camp Sternberg; Camp Stolin; Camp Sva Rotzohn; Camp Toldos Yakov Yosef; Camp Toldos Yosef; Camp Toras Chesed; Camp Toras Chaim Tashbar; Camp UTA; Camp Viznitz; Camp Yeshiva Chasan Sofer; Camp Yesh. Tifereth Yisroel.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.