Judge Lifts Restrictions for DC Churches Before Easter: ‘People Can Worship God in a Safe Way’

A federal judge ruled Thursday that houses of worship in Washington, D.C. can gather for religious services without being limited to 25 percent capacity and 250-person restrictions.

U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden awarded a preliminary injunction to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington which had filed a complaint (link) against D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for the constraints placed on churches, arguing they’re unconstitutional in comparison to other “essential” businesses.

McFadden pointed out in a 40-page opinion that the “Mayor’s restrictions carved out a class of ‘Essential Businesses,’ which were ‘strongly encouraged to remain open’ with no capacity limitations.” 

He also noted the restrictions applied only to churches, not businesses, a disparity that the U.S. Supreme Court already deemed unconstitutional with New York’s worship attendance caps in November.

“‘Essential Businesses’ were defined to include many entities, from hospitals and grocery stores to dry cleaners, liquor stores, and medical marijuana dispensaries,” McFadden wrote. “Religious services were excluded.”

However, the original complaint filed last December emphasized that “people can worship God in a safe, responsible and cooperative way.” 

McFadden added, “In the end, part of the free exercise of religion that the First Amendment protects is a church’s ability to exercise it in the manner it sincerely believes its religion compels.”

Additionally, his ruling increases the capacity limit in churches to 40 percent and churches must adhere to social distancing guidelines.

In a series of tweets, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit legal and educational institute shared their excitement over Judge McFadden’s ruling which came just in time for Holy Week.

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