Officials at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., said Wednesday that they are weighing the idea of suing Democratic District Mayor Muriel Bowser for allegedly violating the religious liberties of the museum’s employees and visitors.
The museum, which opened in 2017 and documents the history and impact of the Bible with thousands of historical items, sent a letter to Bowser claiming her new executive order violates the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, according to The Washington Post.
Bowser’s order, issued Dec. 18, required museums and indoor dining to close from Dec. 23 to Jan. 15, 2021, which is one of the busiest times of year for the museum.
“It’s our desire to be treated the same,” museum president Harry Hargrave said. “We don’t want to create a havoc. We want to stand up for our rights as well, and we feel like they’ve been violated.”
The museum, which is officially nonsectarian and apolitical, changed its bylaws about a year ago to characterize itself as a religious organization. Evangelism is not the goal of the museum, Hargrave explained, but rather to “[communicate] the virtues of the Bible and what it means.”
Hargrave described the first shutdown in March as “a crippling experience,” explaining how the museum had to furlough 40 employees.
The museum is imploring Bowser to reinstate her less restrictive orders that allowed 250 socially-distanced guests per floor. The museum spans nearly 400,000 square feet across seven floors. The museum nevertheless abided by the mayor’s order and closed Wednesday.
Bowser has run afoul of religious liberty laws before with her COVID-19 lockdown orders, most recently having settled with the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., in a case alleging she was violating constitutional rights with an indiscriminate 50-person limit on church services. As The Daily Wire reported:
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and Democratic District Mayor Muriel Bowser reached a deal Tuesday in their legal wrangling over caps on church attendance.
The agreement comes a week after the archdiocese filed a lawsuit on Dec. 11 alleging that Bowser’s 50-person cap on all houses of worship, regardless of size, was unconstitutional. In response, Bowser loosened restrictions setting limits in churches to 25% of their capacity or up to 250 people, whichever is smaller.
Anthony Dick, an attorney representing the archdiocese, described the deal as a “Christmas truce,” according to The Hill. Both parties are expected to provide Judge Trevor McFadden with written version of the agreement by Wednesday. The court had been urged to act quickly in time for Christmas.
Bowser was also sued by Capitol Hill Baptist Church in September for her earlier lockdown order, which had forbidden even outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people. Claiming a violation of the First and Fifth Amendments, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the suit also pointed out that while churches were forbidden to gather outside, Bowser herself expressed support and even participated in mass protests where tens of thousands gathered.