Biden Nominee Argued Religious Gatherings Posed ‘Greater Risk’ During Pandemic

June 9, 2023
First Liberty Institute | Biden Nominee Argued Religious Gatherings Posed 'Greater Risk'

by Jorge Gomez • 4 min read

Sen. Josh Hawley grilled Loren AliKhan, nominated by President Biden for a federal court seat in Washington, D.C. She argued against religious freedom in First Liberty’s case involving Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

We represented the church and sued the city for its harsh and discriminatory restrictions on worship gatherings. As Solicitor General of the District of Columbia, AliKhan defended D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s lockdown orders that did not allow churches to meet or hold services, including those held outdoors. The city, however, treated mass protests more favorably than religious services by not enforcing its capacity restrictions on gatherings against protestors.

At her Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week, Sen. Hawley asked, “Do you think it’s wrong to discriminate on the basis of religious faith?”

“Absolutely,” AliKhan responded.

Sen. Hawley replied, “Then why did you argue that religious services and religious people pose a greater risk of infection than people gathered to argue for defunding the police?”

AliKhan claims that the mayor relied on expert epidemiologists when making decisions about restrictions. But that was not the case. Our legal brief pointed out that the city “marshaled no scientific evidence on this point.” The district court also noted that the only expert offered by Washington D.C. had a PhD in Political Science, not anything related to epidemiology, which contradicts AliKhan’s statements at her confirmation hearing.

Sen. Hawley followed up by asking why AliKhan didn’t submit any “scientific evidence in the record” when making those arguments, to which AliKhan replied that the cases were “fast-moving.” He also referred to the district court’s decision, noting that the judge had ruled that the lockdown orders for churches constituted discrimination.

First Liberty—together with our friends at the law firm WilmerHale LLP—secured not one, but two wins protecting Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s right to hold services without restrictions. We argued that, like countless houses of worship around the country, the church has a sincerely held belief that its congregation must meet in person to worship together.

In October 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a ruling in favor of the church, effectively stopping D.C. government officials from discriminating against churches by prohibiting them from holding religious services. That decision case allowed the church and its members to gather for outdoor services while following social distancing and CDC guidelines.

In July 2021, our legal team reached a favorable settlement, in which the District of Columbia agreed that it would not enforce any current or future restrictions on the church’s gatherings, as well as agreeing to cover the church’s legal fees.

AliKhan and many of President Biden’s judicial nominees are alarming. They offer very little to inspire confidence that they will uphold the Constitution, and their records suggest they could be hostile to religious liberty if confirmed to the federal bench for life.

Religious Americans confront increasing threats to their rights, and anyone who is openly hostile to religious liberty should not be a judge. First Liberty will continue to provide you with the facts and expert analysis. If there are nominees with radical records or who do not uphold the Constitution and our First Amendment rights, you will be the first to know.

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