Archdiocese of Washington Stands Up to D.C.'s COVID Grinch

December 15, 2020

Once again, liberal leaders are trying to restrict the religious freedom of religious adherents -- this time at one of the holiest times of the year. Washington, D.C. is still restricting indoor worship services to only 50 people, regardless of the size of the church. The Archdiocese of Washington is fighting back.

Will Haun, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the Archdiocese, discussed the case on "Washington Watch" yesterday: "The Archdiocese here is asking the court to allow it to hold safe, socially distanced, mask-wearing worship services in time for Christmas." Haun shared what over 650,000 Catholics in Washington, D.C. are facing. Muriel Bowser, the mayor of D.C., is refusing to let churches allow more than 50 people to attend Mass, including Christmas Mass. Haun pointed out that what the city is doing with their restrictions is "clearly unscientific." Three infectious disease experts have surveyed over one million public masses since COVID started spreading in America. It is clear that Mass is not a "super-spreader" event. As Haun explained, "The government is obligated to treat religion in a neutral way, and singling out religion for disfavor[able] treatment in this way and in ways that don't make any sense, [they] have to have a good reason." Haun went on, "when things don't make any sense, there isn't a good reason. Half of the Archdiocese' churches in the district can accommodate 500 or more people."

Mayor Bowser still insists on limiting worship services to 50 people -- regardless of the size of the church. Yet, restaurants can operate with people eating and drinking without masks. Thousands can gather in the name of Black Lives Matter and Biden. But Catholics and other Christians are severely restricted in their ability to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.

The District has already been taken to court and has lost when Capitol Hill Baptist fought for their right to celebrate services outdoors. The city was allowing secular services to operate outdoors -- it was simply singling out churches for restrictions. The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in favor of Capitol Hill Baptist. This is not the first time President Trump's Department of Justice has been strong and fought for the rights of religious adherents during the pandemic.

Attorney General Barr acted quickly when it became increasingly clear that churches and houses of worship were being targeted and treated unfairly during the pandemic. In April, Barr directed federal prosecutors to monitor, and if necessary, take action to correct state and local policies that discriminate against religious institutions during the pandemic. In May, the Department of Justice filed a statement of interest supporting the religious freedom of Lighthouse Fellowship Church after it was issued a criminal citation for holding a Palm Sunday service for 16 people. Thankfully, the Department of Justice has been a consistent and strong advocate for religious adherents prior to and during the pandemic.

The coronavirus has tested the strength of our Constitution, and we are thankful for churches that are fighting for the importance of the First Amendment. As Haun said, "This kind of worship activity is at the core of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty." The Free Exercise Clause is a fundamental right that must be treated equally to other rights -- even in, and especially during, trying times.