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Thirty-four senators filed an amicus brief in support of Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC), a prominent evangelical church in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., that recently sued Democratic District Mayor Muriel Bowser for her lingering lockdown orders that limit even outdoor religious gatherings to 100 people.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) filed the brief Wednesday on behalf of his colleagues in a show of solidarity for the 850-member church, which until the lockdown had met every week for 142 years, save for the three weeks they shuttered during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic.
“Mayor Bowser has permitted and participated in several mass protests in recent months,” Wicker pointed out in a statement to The Daily Wire. “However, the city’s COVID-19 regulations prohibit a religious gathering of more than 100 individuals outdoors. The senators argue that the selective enforcement of the District’s rules violates the church’s First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).”
Wicker continued, “The senators argue in part, ‘Whether viewed as a matter of free speech, the freedom of assembly, or the free exercise of religion protected by the Constitution and RFRA, the result is the same: The Mayor’s discrimination against houses of worship rests on a mistaken, and unconstitutional, premise that one particular exercise of free speech—a church’s desire to gather together and worship their God—is subordinate to other First Amendment-protected activities. This Court should enforce the First Amendment’s promise of free speech for all by issuing a preliminary injunction to prevent the Mayor and the District of Columbia from prohibiting outdoor religious services that adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.'”
The amicus brief is the latest development in the legal wrangling between CHBC and Bowser’s government, which began when the church filed a lawsuit against her last month.
As The Daily Wire reported:
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, attorneys representing Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) claimed that the District government is showing preferential treatment in how it enforces the repeatedly extended lockdown orders.
Claiming a violation of the First and Fifth Amendments, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the suit pointed out that while they are forbidden from congregating even outdoors in excess of 100 people, Bowser herself has expressed public support for the recent mass protests in the District where tens of thousands gathered.
A portion of the lawsuit documented the repeated times over the summer when mass protests violated the city’s lockdown orders, but for which there were no consequences. Referring to the June 6 protest near the White House, the suit notes, “Mayor Bowser attended the mass protest and said to the thousands in attendance, ‘It’s so wonderful to see everyone peacefully protesting, wearing their masks.’”
The suit further recalled how the city even closed “dozens of city streets to vehicular traffic on that day in order to accommodate the ‘First Amendment demonstrations.’”
The Department of Justice also recently threw its weight behind CHBC, filing a statement of interest last week that argued: “the Constitution and federal law require the District of Columbia to accommodate Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s effort to hold worship services outdoors, at least to the same extent the District of Columbia allows other forms of outdoor First Amendment activity, such as peaceful protests.”
In addition to Wicker, the amicus brief was signed by Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Mike Enzi (R-WY), John Cornyn (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Thune (R-SD), John Barrasso (R-WY), James E. Risch (R-ID), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jerry Moran (R-KS), John Boozman (R-AR), John Hoeven (R-ND), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rand Paul (R-KY), Tim Scott (R-SC), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), James Lankford (R-OK), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Steve Daines (R-MT), David Perdue (R-GA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Ben Sasse (R-NE), John Kennedy (R-LA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Mike Braun (R-IN), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Rick Scott (R-FL)., and Kelly Loeffler (R-GA).