Federal Judge Denies Request to Open Overnight Camps in New York State

A teacher shows children how to wash their hands at her kindergarten as Israeli preschools opened under the further easing of restrictions to prevent the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, in Jerusalem May 10, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen.

JNS.org – A federal judge in New York denied a request for an injunction that would have allowed overnight camps in that state to open this summer.

The ruling stems from a case brought against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo by the Association of Jewish Camp Operators, representing haredi and Chassidic camps, and several Jewish parents. The plaintiffs claimed that the closure of overnight camps violated their First Amendment rights as related to free exercise of religion.

In issuing his ruling on Monday, Judge Glenn T. Suddaby, found that “granting injunctive relief to open overnight summer camps runs contrary to the public interest in stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

Suddaby noted that permitting camps to open have meant an influx of children from both in and out of New York state, as the ruling would allow Jewish and secular camps statewide to open, not just religious camps. This move would “put an immense strain on local governments and rural areas with limited health-care resources.”

The ruling was met with disappointment by some in the haredi and Chassidic communities, who had been pushing for the opening, especially as the number of coronavirus cases has remained low in recent weeks. They claimed that the children, who often come from large families and small apartments, need to be able to get out and play this summer.

“The impact on children is devastating,” said Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, New York government-relations director for Agudath Israel of America. “Instead of looking forward to a summer of growth, filled with learning experiences and preparation for an upcoming school year, many children of our community will now be forced to endure a continuation of the long-lasting lockdowns imposed by the state government.”

Despite the ruling—and the initial order from Cuomo—rumors are circulating that some Orthodox camps have indeed opened in New York utilizing certain “loopholes.”

Seeking to avoid issues of legality, other camps relocated their operations this season to campgrounds in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and elsewhere that are allowing the running of overnight facilities.

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