Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, filed a lawsuit last September against Mayor Muriel Bowser over the city’s restrictions on churches meeting inside or outside buildings. The ordinance limited congregants to no more than 100 people. The church has a membership of 850 people.
The church alleged that the city treated congregants differently than it treated protesters — limiting church gatherings but allowing mass anti-police protests. The church wanted to be allowed to meet outdoors as protestors were allowed to do. The mayor appeared at an anti-police rally in June 2020 while the ban on church gatherings was in effect.
The U.S. Department of Justice under President Donald Trump submitted a statement of interest in the case, which stated that the U.S. Constitution and federal law requires the city to accommodate the church’s effort to meet outdoors. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the church a preliminary injunction against the city ordinance.
Sources reported that the city has settled with the church. D.C. won’t enforce current or future restrictions on worship against Capitol Hill Baptist and agreed to pay $220,000 in attorney’s fees and costs. Although the city “denies all liability and all factual claims,” Acting Deputy Attorney General Fernando Amarillas said that “it will not impose restrictions on CHBC that are more restrictive than [those] on comparable secular activities.”
WilmerHale LLP and First Liberty Institute represent the church.
“All Capitol Hill Baptist Church ever asked is for equal treatment under the law so they could meet together safely as a church,” First Liberty attorney Hiram Sasser said. “The church is relieved and grateful that this ordeal is behind them. Government officials need to know that illegal restrictions on First Amendment rights are intolerable and costly.”
Churches across the country have challenged the government COVID-19 restrictions on attendance and worship.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down some of those restrictions. For example, the court ruled that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 restrictions were harsher against houses of worship than on secular establishments. The court also remanded cases and asked lower courts reconsider rulings against churches in light of the its New York ruling.