Government of Washington, DC must pay $200k to church it restricted during lockdown
WASHINGTON, D.C., July 14, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – The District of Columbia will pay $200,000 as part of a settlement of a lawsuit for restricting religious services during the coronavirus lockdown.
Last September, Capitol Hill Baptist Church sued the district after the government banned outdoor religious services with more than 100 people in attendance. They argued that the restrictions unfairly burdened religious institutions compared to secular entities.
In October 2020, Trump-appointed U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden ruled in favor of the church, maintaining that the “current restrictions substantially burden the church’s exercise of religion.”
He continued to explain that “the District has failed to offer evidence at this stage showing that it has a compelling interest in preventing the church from meeting outdoors with appropriate precautions, or that this prohibition is the least-restrictive means to achieve its interest.”
Later, the church hosted their first outdoor service, following the current the official public health recommendations by practicing so-called physical distancing and wearing masks.
Associate Pastor Bobby Jamieson preached at this service, saying, “It is absolutely appropriate to take stock, to give thanks, to give honor to whom honor is due, to recognize the many blessings that our government continually secures and provides for us.”
“The only conditions that justify disobedience to legitimate government authority, legitimate earthly authority are when they either command something God forbids or forbid something God commands,” he continued.
In March 2020, as part of their lockdown measures, D.C. restricted the capacity for religious services of 10 or more people. Later, this was changed to 100 people or 50% of the building capacity.
The lawsuit was finalized this Thursday, with the city agreeing to pay $220,000 to the lawyers representing the church. This meant that the law firm WilmerHale will receive $210,000 while the national legal non-profit First Liberty Institute will be given the remaining $10,000. The district also must allow Capitol Hill Baptist Church to hold indoor religious services.
“The District agrees that it will not enforce any current or future COVID-19 restrictions to prohibit CHBC from gathering as one congregation in the District of Columbia,” the settlement stated.
“The District further agrees that, should it decide that new restrictions on religious gatherings are necessary during the current, or any future, COVID-19 (or variant thereof) public health emergency, it will not impose restrictions on CHBC that are more restrictive than the restrictions on comparable secular activities, as defined by the Supreme Court.”
Executive general counsel for First Liberty Institute Hiram Sasser said in a statement that Capitol Hill Baptist Church “is relieved and grateful that this ordeal is behind them.”
“All Capitol Hill Baptist Church ever asked is for equal treatment under the law so they could meet together safely as a church,” Sasser continued. “Government officials need to know that illegal restrictions on First Amendment rights are intolerable and costly.”