by Marlee Tomlinson, Contributing Writer • 5 min read
Recently, First Liberty Institute and WilmerHale LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC), seeking to reclaim the church’s right to hold outdoor church services in the District of Columbia while following social distancing and CDC guidelines.
Today, we’re happy to report that our legal team scored a victory for CHBC, one of many critical triumphs that we’ve secured throughout the pandemic and the subsequent constitutional crisis.
On October 9th, the U.S. Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the church, effectively stopping D.C. government officials from discriminating against churches by prohibiting them from holding religious services. The judge’s ruling in the case allows CHBC and its members to now gather for outdoor services.
One of the pastors at CHBC recently commented on this groundbreaking victory in our nation’s capital:
“[O]ur government is restoring equity by extending to religious gatherings the same protections that have been afforded other similar gatherings during this pandemic.”
Of course, this win isn’t just significant for one single church in D.C., but also for houses of worship across the nation.
Like thousands of churches, CHBC considers in-person worship services an essential part of their religious beliefs for which there is no substitute. But as we’ve seen over the past several months, religious communities and congregations of all faiths have been required to close their doors and postpone meeting in person indefinitely.
Meanwhile, many of the same government officials that consider churches “non-essential” have expressed support for and allowed mass protests to take place without imposing similar restrictions. Even now, as businesses, commercial activities and public gatherings are resuming nationwide, there are still some local and state officials (such as the Governors in New York and California) who continue imposing inequitable policies against houses of worship.
On four occasions between June and August 2020, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department closed city streets to accommodate protests and marches of thousands to tens of thousands of people. What’s even more concerning is that D.C.’s mayor Muriel Bowser appeared personally at an outdoor gathering of this kind. When asked why she celebrates mass protests while houses of worship remain closed, she said:
“First Amendment protests and large gatherings are not the same [because] in the United States of America, people can protest.”
This was such an important fight that the U.S. Department of Justice backed the church’s suit against the city, arguing that D.C. officials had engaged in discrimination by denying the permit but allowing other larger outdoor rallies and protests. Thirty U.S. Senator expressed public support for the church and criticized the city’s “selective enforcement” of its coronavirus restrictions in a brief filed with the court.
Throughout this time, First Liberty maintains an unparalleled victory rate, winning every legal matter we’ve taken on since the start of the pandemic. And, by God’s grace, we continue to be the “best hope for victory” for churches and religious communities across the country.
But if the last several months are any indication, opponents of religious freedom will continue to seize this crisis to shut down churches and to keep people of faith subdued as second-class citizens. And that means the battle for religious freedom during this pandemic is far from over.
Right now, we need to build on the momentum of our string of victories to ensure that government will not control our churches. And together with your support, we can keep winning and setting precedents to protect religious freedom—now and in the critical months ahead.
Will you go All In with First Liberty so that we can continue fighting behalf of houses of worship during this constitutional crisis?