D.C. Archdiocese Sues Democrat Mayor over ‘Arbitrary’ Worship Restrictions

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 19: Empty pews stand in a Catholic church in Brooklyn on September 19, 2018 in New York City. In a further blow to the Catholic Church in America, four men who were sexually assaulted as children by a teacher at a Roman Catholic church have …
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The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., has filed a federal lawsuit against Mayor Muriel Bowser over “unscientific” and “discriminatory” restrictions on public worship during the coronavirus pandemic.

The arbitrary 50-person limit in any house of worship violates “the rights of more than 650,000 D.C.-area Catholics, who — at the end of this most difficult year — now face the chilling prospect of being told that there is no room for them at the Church this Christmas,” the lawsuit states.

“Under both the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the District’s arbitrary, unscientific, and discriminatory treatment of religious worship is illegal,” the suit declares, adding “the District’s hard caps on numbers of worshippers cannot withstand scrutiny.”

“From the start of the pandemic,” the lawsuit argues, “the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington has worked with the District of Columbia to protect public health, including by voluntarily suspending public Masses in March.”

“Since Mass resumed in June, the Archdiocese has demonstrated that people can worship God in a safe, responsible, and cooperative way. This has led to an exemplary safety record,” said the archdiocese. “Yet as Christmas fast approaches, the District has imposed arbitrary 50-person caps on Mass attendance—even for masked, socially-distant services, and even when those services are held in churches that can in normal times host over a thousand people.”

The lawsuit, brought by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty on behalf of the archdiocese, argues that the “restrictions are discriminatory, in that they single out religious worship as a disfavored activity, even though it has been proven safer than many other activities the District favors.”

In the case of “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,” the lawsuit notes, whereas a hard cap is reserved for public worship.

In a recent interview with CNN International and PBS, the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, declared that the archdiocese has been “absolutely committed to following all of the health protocols that have been demanded of us.”

“We do believe that we should, as religious people, be allowed the same latitude that other public structures are – such as grocery stores and other public venues that have no limits or at least very generous limits,” Cardinal Gregory said.

“Too often, churches and other houses of worship have more restrictions,” the cardinal observed. “We, here in the Archdiocese of Washington, have received no cases – at least none that we know of – where people have been infected by attending church.”

“So we have asked for at least the possibility of proportional attendance,” he concluded. “We just think we should not be treated any differently and certainly not unfairly in comparison to other public places for attendance.”

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