The Capitol Hill Baptist Church in the District of Columbia, is suing Mayor Muriel Bowser and the District government for violating its First Amendment right to worship.
“CHBC desires to gather for a physical, corporate gathering of believers in the District of Columbia on Sunday, September 27, 2020, and on subsequent Sundays, and would do so but for those actions of the Defendants that are the subject of this Complaint,” the lawsuit charges. It seems pretty clear that Bowser is applying one set of rules against religious institutions and another set of piorities entirely when it comes to activities she cares about. In March, Bowser (Is she the most unethical big city mayor in the U.S.? She’s certainly in the running, but it’s a tough field) issued an executive order prohibiting churches from meeting indoors or out because of public health concerns related to the pandemic. D.C.’s four-stage plan would bar in-person worship gatherings until there is an “effective cure or vaccine” for the Wuhan virus, a rule that can be counted on to wound, perhaps mortally, church communities that have been built up over many decades. Right now gatherings are supposedly limited to 100 people or up to 50 percent of the building’s capacity, whichever is fewer. The 850-member Capitol Hill Baptist Church has been meeting in a field in Virginia.
The 142-year-old congregation explains in its suit that “a weekly in-person worship gathering of the entire congregation is a religious conviction for which there is no substitute. The Church does not offer virtual worship services, it does not utilize a multi-site model, and it does not offer multiple Sunday morning worship services.”
“Since its founding in 1878, CHBC has met in-person every Sunday except for three weeks during the Spanish Flu in 1918. That changed following Mayor Bowser’s first orders concerning COVID-19 on March 11, 2020. Since that time, the members of CHBC—most of whom live in the District—have been unable to meet in person, as one congregation inside District limits (even outdoors)….CHBC has applied for multiple waivers to the policy. District officials refuse to provide CHBC with a waiver beyond 100 persons as part of a mass gathering…A church is not a building that can be opened and closed. A church is not an event to be watched. A church is a community that gathers regularly and that community should be treated fairly by the District government.”
Fairly? On June 10, the church asked for a waiver so the congregation could meet at currently abandoned RFK Stadium, which is large enough to permit social distancing. The mayor’s office didn’t respond to the request and subsequent appeals until September 15, and then issued a rejection stating that “[w]aivers for places of worship above that expanded capacity (100 attendees) are not being granted at this time.”
Strangely, as the lawsuit points out, on June 27, 2020, the District of Columbia considered a waiver to two local companies that had wanted to set up an ad hoc drive-in movie theater at the same venue, RFK Stadium, in order “to bring people together in D.C.” That waiver was granted.
But wait! There’s more!
The lawsuit correctly asserts that Bowser and the District “have been discriminatory in their application of the ban on large scale gatherings,” citing a June 6 appearance by the D.C. mayor before tens of thousands of George Floyd protesters, as she declared that the crowd was “wonderful to see.” The District’s Metropolitan Police Department also has closed city streets “to accommodate protests and marches of thousands to tens of thousands of people.” The mayor has also coordinated with organizers of the Commitment March on Washington, who are planning a five-hour demonstration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for several thousand people. Museums, restaurants, and other entertainment venues in D.C. are open. Metro services have been restored to pre-lockdown levels.
The church’s lawsuit concludes, “Creating an exception for mass protests and not other types of First Amendment activities is constitutionally forbidden content-based discrimination and thus violates CHBC’s free speech rights.”
Of course, this is a city that paints political slogans on the streets, but prosecutes citizens who either cover them up or paint their own.
“The First Amendment protects both mass protests and religious worship,” the lawsuit states. “But Mayor Bowser, by her own admission, has preferred the former over the latter. When asked why she celebrates mass protests while houses of worship remain closed, she responded that ‘First Amendment protests and large gatherings are not the same’ because ‘in the United States of America, people can protest.’”
They also can practice their religion. This is flagrant, arrogant double standards hostile to religion in action, and they will not stand.
Just as this lawsuit was being filed a Deranged Facebook Friend had the chutzpah to post one of those ‘conservatives are hypocrites because they don’t embrace the progressive agenda and Jesus would have’ memes to waves of “likes” and “loves.” The argument is so simpleminded and deliberately misleading that it doesn’t warrant serious discussion, except that the hypocrisy of a group actively hostile to religion appealing to Jesus as an authority boggles the mind.
One of the vicious talking points about to be shot at Amy Coney Barrett is that her confirmation for the Supreme Court would point the United States toward a theocracy, since she is a devout Catholic. But a competent judge who never heard of religion should be able to figure out that Mayor Bowser’s game is unconstitutional.