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Capitol Hill Baptist Church Sues District of Columbia Over COVID-19 Restrictions on Church Gatherings

Another church is pushing back against the government’s burdensome mandate on barring houses of worship from gathering indoors or outdoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Capitol Hill Baptist Church, headed by Pastor Mark Dever, filed a lawsuit against Washington, D.C., and Mayor Muriel Bowser over the city’s restrictions on churches meeting inside or outside buildings. The ordinance limits congregants to no more than 100 people. The church has a membership of 850 people.

The church noted how the government treats congregants differently than it treats protesters — limiting church gatherings but allowing mass anti-police protests. From the Washington Post:

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 notes that Bowser appeared at a huge anti-racism rally in June, that the city police have been assigned to such events and 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 Church does, however, take exception to Defendants’ decision to favor certain expressive gatherings over others,” the suit said. “The First Amendment protects both mass protests and religious worship. But Mayor Bowser, by her own admission, has preferred the former over the latter.”

As the Washington Post noted, the church wants to be allowed to meet outdoors with no limits as protesters have been allowed to do.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said that Capitol Hill Baptist Church has followed public health guidelines and sought to resolve the matter in a peaceful way, but D.C. “sadly, has chosen to act inconsistently and arbitrarily, treating houses of worship by standards other than those necessary to maintain public health, thereby coming into conflict with First Amendment protections. Let’s pray that the District will quickly reconsider their actions, or that the courts will do so for them, and that the church and the government in our nation’s capital can both serve their neighbors freely in their respective spheres.”

Pastor John MacArthur and his congregation at Grace Community Church in southern California are still under a court injunction barring indoor worship services. But the pastor said he will continue to hold indoor services even if he has to start a ministry in jail if it comes to that.

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