Cardinal sues Democrat DC mayor over ‘discriminatory’ COVID-19 restrictions

‘Under both the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the District’s arbitrary, unscientific, and discriminatory treatment of religious worship is illegal,’ the lawsuit stated.
Sat Dec 12, 2020 - 2:32 pm EST
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Cardinal Wilton Gregory Mark Wilson / Getty Images

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WASHINGTON, D.C., December 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — With Christmas less than two weeks away, Cardinal Wilton Gregory is suing Democrat Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and the District of Columbia over their coronavirus restrictions, alleging these are “arbitrary” and “discriminatory” to churches and will cause “imminent and irreparable harm.”

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed the suit Friday evening in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the Daily Caller reported.

“Under both the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the District’s arbitrary, unscientific, and discriminatory treatment of religious worship is illegal,” the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit is asking the court to declare that the “50-person cap on religious gatherings violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act; the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause; First Amendment’s protections for free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association; and the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.”

It is seeking temporary, preliminary, and permanent injunctions to prohibit Bowser and the District from “enforcing their unlawful policies against Plaintiff’s religious beliefs and activities.”

The lawsuit also seeks injunctive relief to prevent Bowser and the District from “discriminating against Plaintiff’s religious beliefs and activities” and “prohibiting Defendants from practices or engaging in any other conduct that chills Plaintiff’s free exercise of religion, rights under RFRA, First Amendment rights, and rights under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.”

The Catholic archdiocese has worked with the District since the pandemic began to “protect public health,” including “voluntarily suspending public Masses in March,” the lawsuit stated.

Moreover, since public Masses began again in June, “the Archdiocese has demonstrated that people can worship God in a safe, responsible, and cooperative way. This has led to an exemplary safety record: thousands of Masses, with zero known COVID outbreaks linked to the Mass,” it said.

“Yet as Christmas fast approaches, the District has imposed arbitrary 50-person caps on Mass attendance — even for masked, socially-distant services, and even when those services are held in churches that can in normal times host over a thousand people,” the lawsuit pointed out.

These restrictions are both “unscientific, in that they bear no relation to either the size of the building or the safety of the activity,” and “discriminatory, in that they single out religious worship as a disfavored activity, even though it has been proven safer than many other activities the District favors,” the lawsuit said.

“Indeed, if the Archdiocese were to fill its churches with library books, washing machines, exercise bikes, restaurant tables, or shopping stalls instead of pews, the District would allow many more people to enter and remain for an unlimited amount of time.”

The District imposes “capacity-based limits” and not “hard caps” on “public libraries, laundromats, retail stores, restaurants, tattoo parlors, nail salons, fitness centers, and many other establishments,” it pointed out.

“For example, there is no hard cap on the number of people who can dine indoors in restaurants, where alcohol is commonly served and patrons do not wear masks during meals.”

Lawsuit “last resort” for relief from “burdensome” restrictions

Cardinal Gregory echoed this in a December 11 interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, noting that the archdiocese has been “absolutely committed to following all of the health protocols that have been demanded of us.”

“And we do believe that we should, as religious people, be allowed the same latitude that other public structures are. Grocery stores and public venues that have no limits or at least very generous limits, while too often, churches and other houses of worship have more restrictions,” added Gregory.

“We here in the Archdiocese of Washington have received no cases, at least none that we know of, where people have been infected by attending church,” he said.

“So, we’ve asked for at least the possibility of proportional attendance. We just think we should not be treated any differently and certainly not unfairly in comparison to other public places for attendance.”

Fr. Daniel Carson, vicar general and moderator of the curia, said in a message to priests that the archdiocese tried to no avail to negotiate with the District. The lawsuit is a “last resort” to “seek judicial relief “from the “burdensome restrictions” that “single out religious worship for harsher treatment than similar secular activities,” he wrote.

Carson cited the November 25 Supreme Court decision Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo in which the top court ruled that “hard caps on worship attendance ‘effectively bar many from attending religious services’ and ‘many other less restrictive rules … could be adopted’ including percentage-based restrictions the District uses for many different types of businesses and activities.”

The archdiocese’s detailed 14-page COVID-19 guidelines for celebrating Mass, updated in October, direct that social distancing must be observed and masks worn at all times inside churches. Priests are not directed to wear a mask but are allowed to if they so choose.

Those receiving Holy Communion are instructed to: “Place one hand under the other while keeping your fingers together, making ‘a throne for the King,’ as St. Cyril of Jerusalem says. Receive the Host in your hand, then step six feet away from the minister. Then carefully loosen your facial covering (or mask by an ear loop), consume the Host, and replace the facial covering. If the minister accidentally touches anyone’s hand, he will immediately disinfect his own hands.”

While the archdiocese strongly encourages communicants to receive the Host on their hand, it does allow Catholics to receive Holy Communion on the tongue.

It requests that those choosing to do so “go to a particular minister / wait until the end of Communion / etc.,” to be accommodated. It also requests that the eucharistic minister or priest “immediately disinfect his hands after each communicant who receives on the tongue, even if no physical contact is made.”

The archdiocese further allows for the use of the “Rite of Distributing Holy Communion Outside Mass” when attending Mass is not possible.

Pope Francis appointed Gregory as archbishop of Washington in April 2019, and on November 28, 2020, elevated him to the rank of cardinal, making him the first African-American to receive the red hat.

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Gregory is known for his “progressive” views, and has a long history of heterodoxy, of undermining pro-life efforts, and promoting the views of LGBTQ advocates such as Fr. James Martin. He is also a vocal critic of President Trump, notably criticizing the president’s long-planned June visit to St. John Paul II National Shrine in the nation’s capital.

  covid-19, lockdowns, muriel bowser, wilton gregory

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