The Department of Justice (DOJ) is throwing its weight behind a prominent evangelical church in Washington, D.C., after it became the first in the nation’s capital to sue the District’s Democrat Mayor Muriel Bowser for allegedly unfairly applying the city’s lockdown orders on outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people.
The DOJ said it has filed a “statement of interest” supporting the 850-member church, according to The Christian Post.
“The Justice Department today filed a statement of interest in federal district court in Washington, D.C., arguing 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,” the statement read.
“The statement of interest was filed in Capitol Hill Baptist Church v. Bowser, a case challenging the District of Columbia’s refusal to allow outdoor worship because of the city’s COVID-19 restrictions,” the statement continued. “The suit challenges the permit denial under the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The suit alleges that while places of worship are limited to 100 people at outdoor worship services, these limits do not apply to, among other things, outdoor protests and rallies accommodating thousands.”
The statement later said, “The United States’ brief explains there is no constitutional or statutory basis for allowing protests and rallies attended by thousands of people, while at the same time silencing religious worship. The brief also explains the city bears a high burden of proof to justify its actions under the First Amendment and RFRA because its actions impose a ‘substantial burden’ on religious exercise, as the church has shown here.”
A prominent Baptist church in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., is suing the District’s Democrat Mayor Muriel Bowser and her government, alleging that the city’s lingering coronavirus lockdown orders are being unfairly applied and violate the U.S. Constitution.
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.’”
Related: Prominent Evangelical Church Sues D.C. Mayor Over ‘Selective Enforcement’ Of Lockdowns