The 850-member Capitol Hill Baptist Church gathered for the first time since March in Washington D.C. this past weekend after a successful lawsuit against the District over COVID-19 restrictions.
The church, which had been meeting in the less restrictive Virginia, gathered in Anacostia Park in Southeast D.C. wearing masks and staying six feet apart. Members also brought their own Bibles and printed bulletins.
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser prohibited religious outdoor or indoor meetings of over 100 people. However, the church complained that the government discriminated against religious organizations.
“For example, on June 6, 2020, Mayor Bowser appeared personally at an outdoor gathering of tens of thousands of people at the corner of 16th and H Streets, NW and delivered a speech describing the large gathering as ‘wonderful to see,’” the complaint said.
“And only three weeks ago, the Mayor coordinated with organizers of the Commitment March on Washington to ‘re-imagine’ the five-hour event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for several thousand people in attendance to hear an array of speakers.”
U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden ruled in favor of the church pastored by Mark Dever, stating that the “District has failed to offer evidence at this stage showing that it has a compelling interest in preventing the Church from meeting outdoors with appropriate precautions” and violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
McFadden reasoned that if the church maintains proper health protocols, the District has no legal argument to restrict them.
The church thanked the mayor, nonetheless, for “her dedicated efforts to protect the public health of our city while balancing the importance of various First Amendment rights.”
“A church is not a building that can be opened or closed,” said Justin Sok, a pastor at Capitol Hill. “A church is not an event to be watched. A church is a community that gathers regularly, and we are thankful that such communities are once again being treated fairly by our government.”
Churches from coast to coast have taken issue with their local governments over religious freedom and COVID-19 restrictions. Thousands of Catholic leaders in San Francisco recently petitioned the city’s one-person limitation on churches, as previously reported by Christian Headlines.
If you are concerned that the government is giving churches and bible studies LESS FREEDOM than other similar-in-nature non-religious activities, then your support is needed to defend the church and religious freedom. Find out how you can join with Alliance Defending Freedom to protect your religious freedom here.
Photo courtesy: Vlad Tchompalov/Unsplash
Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine.