Senate Republicans joined together in an effort to file a lawsuit against Washington D.C.’s Mayor, Muriel Bowser (D) for the extensive coronavirus regulations pushed on a local Baptist church that prohibits large religious gatherings, while the mayor permits thousands of protestors to crowd the city’s streets.
Thirty-four GOP lawmakers rallied behind it, emphasizing that Bowser’s limitations violate “the church’s First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA),” according to the report.
“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,” the senators argued.
The city’s rules to mitigate the spread of the deadly disease forbids a religious gathering of more than 100 individuals outdoors. The Capitol Hill Baptist Church, located on A Street, pressed for its 850-member congregation to be allowed at the religious services, with the senators contending that Bowser has “permitted and participated in several mass protests in recent months” that’s welcomed thousands of protestors from different areas of the nation’s capital, as well as from surrounding states.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) led the effort in filing the lawsuit, taking to Twitter that the church “is fighting for fair treatment in our nation’s capital.” Wicker cited Bowser’s “selective enforcement of D.C.’s” coronavirus rules, as she has allowed for peaceful protests that have congested the streets.
The Department of Justice released a statement last week in support of the historic church’s efforts to push against the mayor’s restrictions, noting “the Constitution and federal law require the District of Columbia to accommodate Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s effort to hold worship services outdoors.” The department also referred to the peaceful protests and rallies taking place within the city.
“We are a nation dedicated to freedom of conscience and freedom of expression,” Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said. “The District of Columbia has, unfortunately, neglected these rights. The Justice Department is committed to defending both of these fundamental freedoms and in supporting all Americans rights to worship as they choose.”
Other Republicans that joined Wicker in signing the amicus brief include Senators Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Mitt Romney (Utah).
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.