A group of small theater and comedy club operators filed a lawsuit against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on September 16, claiming disparate enforcement of vaccine mandates unfairly discriminates against their venues and violates constitutional protections provided by the First and 14th Amendments.
Represented by Pacific Legal Foundation and Mermigis Law Group, the Theater Center, the Players Theater, the Actors Temple Theatre, the Soho Playhouse, and Broadway Comedy Club are challenging de Blasio's "Key to NYC" proof of vaccination order in federal court.
In effect since September 13, the mandate requires many indoor businesses to allow entry only to employees and customers able to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination. The order applies to indoor dining, recreation, fitness, and entertainment establishments. Failure to comply can result in fines to the businesses of up to $5,000 and possible criminal charges.
The lawsuit claims that unequal enforcement of the "Key to NYC" mandate amounts to discrimination based on content of speech and type of speaker, citing exemptions provided for religious services and performances at community centers and schools.
"A theatrical production put on by a community center or high school drama department is treated more favorably than a production put on by one of our clients," the theaters' lawyer Daniel Ortner said in a September 17 statement. "This violates the First Amendment."
Religious services are regularly held without restriction in the very same theaters within mere hours of other performances subject to the mandate. In fact, the Actors Temple doubles as a nondenominational Jewish synagogue and the Orbach Theater rents its facilities to a religious group for Sunday morning services.