D.C. Backs Down After Archdiocese of Washington Lawsuit

December 17, 2020

Elections have consequences, and so do lawsuits. In response to the Archdiocese of Washington's lawsuit against D.C.'s church restrictions, Mayor Muriel Bowser eased restrictions on church capacity in the nation's capital. This welcome change comes just in time for more people to attend Mass for Christmas, one of the holiest days of the year. People should not be forced by the mayor to stay home to celebrate our Lord's birth -- especially when people are able to go eat and drink at a local restaurant for the holiday.

Mayor Bowser's new guidance allows 25 percent capacity, up to a maximum of 250 people. The previous order limited the gathering to 50 people regardless of the size of the church. The new guidance brings restrictions on churches equal to those of restaurants. It's unclear how the mayor believed sitting at church with masks for an hour is significantly more dangerous than sitting in a restaurant for an hour, or more, without a mask and eating and drinking. It's clear the mayor simply values secular interests over religious ones. While her new guidance does permit larger church attendance, it does so begrudgingly.

The guidance claims, "A recent lawsuit appears to insist on a constitutional right to hold indoor worship services of even a thousand persons or more at the largest facilities, which flies in the face of all scientific and medical advice and will doubtlessly put parishioners in harm's way." Yet there is no evidence to support her claim, as there have been no COVID outbreaks as a result of public Masses. And yes -- there is a clear a constitutional right that the Supreme Court has made known in Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo when it struck down Governor Cuomo's restriction on New York churches.

One thing is clear from her guidance, and that is that the Supreme Court and the Archdiocese's boldness in fighting for and protecting the First Amendment is having an impact on people's ability to attend Mass on Christmas. It's clear the Diocese of Brooklyn case is already having a large impact on the ability of thousands of Americans to practice their faith. Churches in California, Nevada, Colorado, New Jersey, and now Washington, D.C. are now being treated equally in this pandemic as a result of the Supreme Court's holding in Diocese of Brooklyn.

We must not lose sight of the impact policy and laws have on people. The people of D.C. should be afforded their First Amendment right and be able to freely practice their faith. As Justice Gorsuch wrote in Diocese of Brooklyn, "Even if the Constitution has taken a holiday during this pandemic, it cannot become a sabbatical." Thankfully, the holiday of First Amendment rights seems to be over, and it's time to celebrate a real holiday -- Jesus's birth.