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A federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled in favor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) on Friday, a prominent evangelical congregation in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., that recently sued the District’s Democrat Mayor Muriel Bowser.
“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,’” wrote Trump-appointed Judge Trevor McFadden, referencing a verse in the Book of Hebrews that commands Christians to gather together for worship.
According to the ruling, CHBC is allowed to resume outdoor gatherings with certain precautions.
As The Daily Wire reported, CHBC filed a lawsuit last month against Bowser in U.S. District Court alleging that the District government is showing preferential treatment in how it enforces the repeatedly extended lockdown orders.
“The Court determines that the Church is likely to succeed in proving that the District’s actions violate RFRA,” McFadden said. “The District’s current restrictions substantially burden the Church’s exercise of religion. More, 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. The Court will therefore grant the Church’s motion for injunctive relief.”
“The Church has consistently represented that it will take appropriate precautions such as holding services outdoors, providing for social distancing, and requiring masks. As explained, the District has not put forward sufficient evidence showing that prohibiting a gathering with these precautions is necessary to protect the public,” the court added.
CHBC Pastor Justin Sok praised the decision in a statement, saying that “our government is restoring equity by extending to religious gatherings the same protections that have been afforded other similar gatherings during this pandemic.”
An update on our efforts to gather again in the District. pic.twitter.com/t0PCW3v75k
— Capitol Hill Baptist Church (@chbcdc) October 10, 2020
CHBC recently earned support from 34 Republican senators, who signed a letter in solidarity with the congregation’s fight for religious liberty. The Department of Justice also threw its weight behind the church earlier this month.
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.