On Oct. 6, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued the now-notorious Executive Order 202.68. Citing rising positive COVID-19 rates in parts of New York state, the order designated certain areas into red, orange, and yellow zones based on their case load. Notably, these regions included significant Orthodox Jewish populations and the order imposed sharp restrictions on their communal religious practice. In red zones, houses of worship were ordered to limit their attendance to 25% capacity or 10 people, “whichever is fewer.” In orange zones, attendance was similarly capped at 33% capacity or 25 people, whichever was fewer. This held true no matter how large the congregation, its building, or its outdoor property.With these restrictions coming during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, it was unsurprising that Orthodox Jewish groups soon filed lawsuits against the order and its impositions on their schools and houses of worship. What’s more surprising is that their case has since been joined by an array of Muslim advocacy groups.On Oct. 16, the Muslim Public Action Council, the Religious Freedom Institute’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team, and religious liberty lawyer Asma Uddin filed an amicus brief in support of one of these lawsuits, petitioning the state to allow the Oct. 27 reopening of Bais Yaakov Ateres Miriam (BYAM) school.In the popular imagination, Muslims and Jews might seem like an odd pairing to prosecute this case. But to those involved, the partnership is intuitive, based on an understanding that threats to traditional religious practice do not stay confined to one community.“Our primary goal with this was to support the Orthodox Jewish community because we were very alarmed at Cuomo’s rhetoric and actions targeted at a community known for publicly lived faith,” said Ismail Royer, director of the Religious Freedom Institute’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team. “We saw viral videos of people harassing Orthodox Jews and referencing Cuomo’s narrative. In Islam, part of being a good neighbor is to defend those who are being harmed, and we felt a compulsion before God to raise our voice against this treatment by the government.”Underlying the suit is a concern that Cuomo and the state have engaged not in data-driven policy, but fear-based scapegoating of a visible population in order to calm a fearful general public. Thus, in an Oct. 12 briefing cited in the BYAM lawsuit, Cuomo acknowledged that the case rates in the affected Orthodox communities weren’t particularly high, and that compared “to other states,” the case rate was “nothing.” Likewise, in an Oct. 6 phone call between Cuomo and Jewish religious leaders—also cited in the suit—the governor explicitly referenced ambient popular fears and emotions surrounding the coronavirus to explain his approach. New Yorkers were afraid and worried, Cuomo told those on the call, which necessitated a strong paternalistic approach to allay their fears. “I don’t think we can do anything more sophisticated,” he said.This preference for a heavy-handed approach rather than a surgical data-driven one, imposed from the top down without full transparency or local input, worried not just the Orthodox Jewish community. As MPAC Policy Analyst Adam Beddawi told me, “MPAC hopes to see a resolution to this legal proceeding that is consistent with the basic principle that religious groups are not subject to undue or discriminatory treatment under the law. Any limitations on public gatherings must be uniform between groups or consistent with relevant group distinctions. Additionally, any effort to curb the spike in COVID-19 cases must attend to the actual determinants for transmission in the first place such as unequal access to healthcare, disparities in paid sick leave or paid time off, and the long-standing gaps in social service systems.”The lack of specifics and clear metrics in Cuomo’s executive order gets to the heart of the perception that religious houses of worship and schools are being subject to excessive restrictions. While the order designated red, orange, and yellow zones, it did not explain or publicly divulge the process for picking them.“New York’s failure to provide clear metrics for identifying clusters makes it hard to determine whether the state is applying the same benchmarks and restrictions to other neighborhoods as well,” said Michael Helfand, a professor of law at Pepperdine University and religious liberty expert. “And that lack of clarity has contributed to the eroding trust of the state festering within some ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. Clearer guidelines with objective measures can help show these impacted communities that decisions are based on numbers and not politics.”Chief among the confusing aspects of the executive order are its failure to distinguish between what it terms “essential” and “nonessential” activities, and its dependence on a vaguely defined “cluster” categorization over ZIP codes to determine red, yellow, and orange zones.“Cluster” is a descriptive rather than a legal term. By the state’s own admission, the percentage or total number of cases that places an area into a specific type of zone is imprecise. Thus, an Oct. 16 declaration by New York state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker in a lawsuit against the restrictions by the Diocese of Brooklyn affirms that “there is no specific percentage or threshold to determine when an area should be designated as an orange or yellow zone, as it is a nuanced process that takes multiple factors into account and not solely the positivity rate.” This refusal to publicly delineate objective criteria for the shutdowns has left many people of faith—not just Jews—with the perception that the process is arbitrary, offering no way to understand or appeal the state’s dictates.Given this uncertainty and confusion, New York imams who were approached for comment were reluctant to speak to Tablet, citing concerns over backlash for supporting legal action against the state with regard to COVID-19. Royer, the Religious Freedom Institute’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team director, said he believes that this concern is indicative of the effect of COVID-19 in Muslim communities, both real and perceived, citing unsubstantiated social media reports of mosques failing to abide by COVID-19 regulations.That Muslim religious leaders would be anxious to protect their communities from popular prejudice and state-sanctioned religious discrimination is understandable, especially given troubling prior history in New York. So while the joint Jewish-Muslim lawsuit might seem strange to outsiders at first glance, for religious freedom advocates in the Muslim community, the fight to ensure that the state does not impose unfair standards on the Orthodox Jewish community is also their fight. “The impact of government restrictions on the Orthodox Jewish community affects us all,” said Asma Uddin, author of When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom, who filed the amicus brief along with MPAC and RFI. “The basic truth of religious freedom is that it requires consistency and integrity because all of our rights are bound up together.”There are initial signs New York state appears to be responding to the multifront, interfaith legal offensive. On Friday, Oct. 30, Cuomo announced a plan for reopening schools in red and orange zones.