Less than a week after the archdiocese filed suit in federal court against the city’s restrictions on houses of worship, the mayor of Washington, D.C. has backed down.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Wednesday loosened restrictions on churches by issuing an order allowing them to hold services with 25 percent capacity or up to 250 individuals, whichever is less.
The previous restrictions – which limited churches to 50 percent capacity or 50 people, whichever was less – sparked a Dec. 11 lawsuit from the Archdiocese of Washington, which argued the city was treating businesses better than houses of worship.
“This order ensures parity in terms of capacity limits – both as a percentage and a cap on attendance – among more activities,” the new order says, referencing the maximum number of persons (250) at the largest restaurant in D.C.
The archdiocese, in its lawsuit, asserted the city was discriminating against churches.
“If the Archdiocese were to fill its churches with library books, washing machines, exercise bikes, restaurant tables, or shopping stalls instead of pews, the District would allow many more people to enter and remain for an unlimited amount of time,” the lawsuit said, according to WAMU. “That is because for public libraries, laundromats, retail stores, restaurants, tattoo parlors, nail salons, fitness centers, and many other establishments, the District imposes capacity-based limits, rather than hard caps. For example, there is no hard cap on the number of people who can dine indoors in restaurants, where alcohol is commonly served and patrons do not wear masks during meals.”
The archdiocese on Thursday applauded Bowser’s order yet said the lawsuit may still go forward.
“We are grateful that the new order will allow us to welcome more of the faithful to Church during the Christmas season and beyond,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “We are continuing to evaluate the impact of these new rules, and it may still be necessary for the court to weigh in on the proper balance between public safety and the fundamental right to worship.
“As always,” the archdiocese added, “we welcome continued dialogue with the Mayor’s Office to ensure that current and future restrictions are fairly applied and do not unduly burden the free exercise of religion.”
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Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/Muni Yogeshwaran
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.