‘Enshrined in the First Amendment’: Justice Department defends DC church seeking waiver to mayor’s limits

Democratic Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is insisting that a local church scrap its plans to meet in person — despite organizers’ plans for ample social distancing measures.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr, however, made it clear that the Justice Department opposes Bowser’s position, announcing in a press release late last week that it had filed a statement of interest in Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s lawsuit against the mayor, as reported by PJ Media.

“Applied for multiple waivers”

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, houses of worship across the U.S. have sought the ability to safely and legally congregate. In May, President Donald Trump declared his belief that churches should be among the “essential services” allowed to operate amid the pandemic.

While the Trump administration has generally supported those efforts, the Justice Department was adamant in its latest statement that he believes the D.C. church should be heard in its challenge to the district’s limit of in-person services to 100 participants.

The church sought permission to meet at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, which has 45,000 seats — more than enough room for the 853 church members to spread out.

“CHBC has applied for multiple waivers to the policy,” read a church statement. “District officials refuse to provide CHBC with a waiver beyond 100 persons as part of a mass gathering.”

While Bowser denied the church’s requests, critics pointed out that she not only made no effort to stop Black Lives Matter protests within D.C. but even participated in some of the mass demonstrations.

“Neglected these rights”

That apparent double standard was not lost on Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband.

“The right to free exercise of religion and the right to protest are both enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution,” he said in the Justice Department statement. “We are a nation dedicated to freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.”

Unfortunately, D.C. leaders have “neglected these rights,” Dreiband argued, proclaiming that his agency “is committed to defending both of these fundamental freedoms and in supporting all Americans rights to worship as they choose.”

The statement concluded that support for the lawsuit aligns with Barr’s policy of reviewing “governmental policies around the country ensure that civil liberties are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

While it remains to be seen if this church, backed by the Justice Department, will be successful, worshippers across the nation are sure to be inspired and encouraged by the efforts.

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