A Capitol Hill church in the United States of America (USA) late Tuesday filed a legal challenge to the District, alleging the city government is violating the First Amendment by facilitating and tolerating massive anti-racism protests but forbidding worship services — indoor or outdoor — of more than 100 because of covid-19.
The complaint filed by the 850-member Capitol Hill Baptist Church is the first legal challenge by a religious organization to the capital’s coronavirus restrictions.
There have been two others in the region — one in Virginia and one in Maryland — since quarantine measures began, and final decisions are pending in both.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, challenges the city’s limits on worship generally, but asks specifically only for the right to meet outdoors.
It was reported that City Mayor, Bowser appeared at a huge anti-racism rally in June and that the city police have been assigned to such events. The church is puzzled that her office has not enforced its own ban on outdoor gatherings of more than 50 people.
The Church takes no issue with Defendants’ decision to permit these gatherings, which are themselves protected by the First Amendment, and the Church supports this exercise of First Amendment rights.
The suit said the church does, however, take exception to Defendants’ decision to favour certain expressive gatherings over others. “The First Amendment protects both mass protests and religious worship. But Mayor Bowser, by her own admission, has preferred the former over the latter”.
The suit comes at a complicated time for Capitol Hill Baptist, which offers online bible study, lectures and a journal, among other things.
The church does not no virtual worship, arguing that worshiping together in person is required for a “biblically ordered church”.
The 142-year-old, largely White, conservative congregation has spent much of the year in intense internal conversation about racism, politics, the overwhelming White evangelical support for President Trump, and what it all means for the Christian witness.
There have been church book groups discussing White privilege, and clergy members this week are launching a teaching series on how to remain close amid disagreements on race and politics.