The District of Columbia and Democratic District Mayor Muriel Bowser agreed to pay $220,000 as part of a settlement with Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC), the prominent evangelical church that sued them last fall.
In addition to paying $220,000 — $210,000 of which will go to the CHBC’s counsel and $10,000 to the legal nonprofit First Liberty Institute — the District also agreed never again to prohibit CHBC from gathering or “to impose restrictions on CHBC that are more restrictive than the restrictions on comparable secular activities, per the Supreme Court,” according to the settlement agreement and release approved Thursday.
CHBC sued Bowser and her city government in September, alleging the District’s strict lockdown orders were being unfairly applied to houses of worship. At the time, even outdoor church services were capped at 100 people, despite the thousands of protesters who demonstrated in the city during Black Lives Matter marches.
“All Capitol Hill Baptist Church ever asked is for equal treatment under the law so they could meet together safely as a church,” said Hiram Sasser, who is executive general counsel for the First Liberty Institute. “The church is relieved and grateful that this ordeal is behind them. Government officials need to know that illegal restrictions on First Amendment rights are intolerable and costly.”
As The Daily Wire first reported of the case:
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.’”
Following support from the Department of Justice and 34 Republican senators, Bowser eventually backed off her clampdown on outdoor services. “It is for the church, not the District or this court, to define for itself the meaning of ‘not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,’” ruled Trump-appointed Judge Trevor McFadden, referencing a verse in the New Testament that commands Christians to gather together for worship.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., also filed a lawsuit against Bowser and the District in the lead-up to Christmas, when she attempted to restrict church attendance to 50 people regardless of building size.