Jul 14 2021
Miss. Senator Led Amicus Brief Supporting Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s Challenge to Coronavirus Restrictions on Services
WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., celebrated the announcement that the government of District of Columbia had reached a favorable settlement with the D.C.-based Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) and its legal representatives. The church had filed a lawsuit in June 2020 challenging the District’s restrictions on gatherings at places of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This settlement represents a great victory for religious freedom and the First Amendment in our nation’s capital city,” Wicker said. “I was glad to support Capitol Hill Baptist Church in its fight to protect those sacred rights and to ensure that no government unfairly targets religious groups.”
In the settlement, the District agreed that it will not enforce any “current or future” COVID-19 restrictions on CHBC gatherings. The District also agreed to pay CHBC’s legal fees.
Wicker led an amicus brief signed by 34 Senators that argued the city’s COVID-19 restrictions prohibiting a gathering of more than 100 individuals outdoors had been selectively enforced, violating the church’s First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The Mayor’s order banned outdoor church services of more than 100 people, regardless of social distancing and mask wearing. At the same time, the Mayor and the District had supported an array of outdoor protests and gatherings by various groups throughout the pandemic.
In June 2020 and again in September, CHBC applied for a waiver of the 100-person limit in order to hold church services outdoors in the District. The District denied the application, stating that waivers for houses of worship were being categorically denied.
The Senators wrote in part, “Whether viewed as a matter of free speech, the freedom of assembly, or the free exercise of religion protected by the Constitution and RFRA, the result is the same: The Mayor’s discrimination against houses of worship rests on a mistaken, and unconstitutional, premise that one particular exercise of free speech—a church’s desire to gather together and worship their God—is subordinate to other First Amendment-protected activities. This Court should enforce the First Amendment’s promise of free speech for all by issuing a preliminary injunction to prevent the Mayor and the District of Columbia from prohibiting outdoor religious services that adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.”
For more information on the amicus brief, click here.