No religious services for half a year and counting: Church sues DC mayor
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WASHINGTON, D.C., September 23, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A Christian church in Washington, D.C., is suing Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser for her ongoing ban on religious gatherings of more than 100 people. The lawsuit claims a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as well as the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
For Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) in the nation’s capital, “a weekly in-person worship gathering of the entire congregation is a religious conviction for which there is no substitute,” the complaint states. “The Church does not offer virtual worship services, it does not utilize a multi-site model, and it does not offer multiple Sunday morning worship services.”
About half a year after the coronavirus lockdowns first caused in-person religious services to cease, “that ban on CHBC’s corporate worship gatherings remains in effect in the District of Columbia.”
According to the local government of the District of Columbia, “In no event shall attendance at any service exceed 50 percent of the capacity of the facility or space where the service is occurring as set forth in its Certificate of Occupancy, or 100 persons, whichever is fewer.”
Unlike other states with restrictive measures imposed during the coronavirus crisis, churches in Washington, D.C., don’t have the option of moving religious services outdoors to allow for greater crowds. Instead, the same limits apply.
The local government recommended participation “limited to virtual worship services,” especially “for older adults and people of all ages with chronic medical conditions who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.”
Critics have argued that forcing churches into virtual worship services online essentially means the government dictates how congregations should worship their god.
“Under the District’s four-stage plan, CHBC’s in-person worship gatherings will be prohibited until scientists develop either a widely-available vaccine or an effective therapy for COVID-19,” the lawsuit points out.
“In hopes of resuming its corporate worship gatherings in the District of Columbia, CHBC filed an application with the Mayor’s Office on June 10, 2020, seeking a waiver from Mayor Bowser’s prohibition on large gatherings.”
However, “the District refused to rule on the Church’s application for months before rejecting the application last week, leaving CHBC subject to the Mayor’s executive order, the violation of which is punishable by civil and administrative penalties.”
The lawsuit also called out Bowser for being hypocritical when it comes to large gatherings.
“For example, on June 6, 2020, Mayor Bowser appeared personally at an outdoor gathering of tens of thousands of people at the corner of 16th and H Streets NW and delivered a speech describing the large gathering as ‘wonderful to see.’ Similarly, on four occasions between June and August 2020, the District’s Metropolitan Police Department closed city streets to accommodate protests and marches of thousands to tens of thousands of people.”
CHBC made a point of taking “no issue with Defendants’ decision to permit these gatherings, which are themselves protected by the First Amendment.” Precisely because of its support of the First Amendment, CHBC “does, however, take exception to Defendants’ decision to favor certain expressive gatherings over others. The First Amendment protects both mass protests and religious worship.”
When Mayor Bowser was asked “why she celebrates mass protests while houses of worship remain closed, she responded that ‘First Amendment protests and large gatherings are not the same’ because ‘in the United States of America, people can protest.’”
The lawsuit simply commented, “In the United States of America, people can gather for worship under the First Amendment as well.”
Across the country, lawsuits have been filed by churches throughout the six months of coronavirus restrictions. While some of them have been successful, state and local governments are still trying to restrict religious gatherings in many places.
Tony Perkins, president of pro-family and pro-life Family Research Council, summarized earlier this week that “religious worship is still prohibited or subjected to unequal treatment (compared to secular activities) in six states — California, Nevada, Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Virginia.”
“In California, the state where some of the most egregious bias has surfaced, 30 of the state’s 58 counties continue to prohibit churches from holding indoor worship services,” he continued. “In counties where churches can meet indoors, singing and chanting activities are forbidden, and churches are subject to strict attendance limits.”
“Under the guise of enforcing emergency public safety guidelines, too many officials have overstepped their authority and unfairly targeted churches,” Perkins pointed out. “It is time for Americans of all faiths and religious backgrounds to stand up for their constitutionally protected freedoms and remind officials that church is essential.”
Readers may contact the office of Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and ask her to lift the restrictions imposed on religious gatherings. Email: [email protected]. Phone: (202) 727-2643.