Capitol Hill Baptist Church scored a victory over D.C.'s coronavirus crackdown on religious freedom on Friday. A federal court granted a preliminary injunction motion that will allow churchgoers to worship on Sunday.
The Justice Department filed a statement of interest in federal court earlier this month arguing D.C.'s restriction on religious services violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in law in 1993 and signed by President Bill Clinton.
"Yesterday, in the heart of our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., a federal district court ruled that the fundamental right of all Americans to worship endures during our COVID-19 response," said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. "Last night’s decision is a victory for religious liberty and the rule of law. In an overwhelming vote, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in order to guarantee our nation’s first freedom is always upheld. The Department of Justice is grateful the court ruled preliminarily with this in mind and is grateful that members of Capitol Hill Baptist Church will be able to worship together on Sunday."
In issuing its injunction, the court found that Capitol Hill Baptist will likely "succeed in proving that the District’s actions impose a substantial burden on its exercise of religion. For its part, the District has not shown that it is likely to prove a compelling interest in prohibiting the Church from holding outdoor worship services with appropriate precautions, or that its restrictions are the least restrictive means available to achieve its public health objectives."
The statement of interest stemmed from Attorney General William Barr's initiative, reviewing government policies around the country during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic to make sure the civil liberties of Americans are protected.