The plaintiff organizations in the federal legal challenge against the New York City Health Department’s regulation governing metzitzah b’peh issued the following statement upon the US Court of Appeals’ ruling earlier today reversing a federal district court’s upholding of the regulation.
Today’s ruling is a great victory — not only for those whose religious rights are directly infringed by the Bloomberg Administration’s regulation of metzitzah b’peh, but for all Americans who cherish religious freedom.
The Court of Appeals correctly recognized that the regulation we have challenged “purposely and exclusively targets a religious practice for special burdens”; and that it “pertains to religious conduct associated with a small percentage of HSV infection cases among infants, while leaving secular conduct associated with a larger percentage of such infection unaddressed.” Under circumstances like these, where a religious practice is singled out for special regulation, the regulation must be subject to “strict scrutiny.” The Court of Appeals has thus reaffirmed that the First Amendment’s guaranty of a person’s right to free exercise of religion is entitled to the very highest level of constitutional protection.
The plaintiffs are deeply gratified by today’s ruling, and are hopeful that the regulation will either be withdrawn at this time or declared unconstitutional in any further court proceedings. We will continue to do all in our power to ensure that mohalim continue to adhere to the highest standards of safety and hygiene in carrying out their religious mission, and we reiterate our longstanding readiness to work together with health officials to protect our children’s health while fully respecting and accommodating our religious practice.
We thank our lawyers, the Jones Day law firm, for the wonderful job they have done in advocating our constitutional freedoms; and we express our appreciation to the two groups who submitted amicus curiae briefs in support of our legal position: the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Alliance Defending Freedom.