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.” Continue reading