A federal judge has ruled in favor of a Baptist church in Washington, DC. That comes on the heels of the Department of Justice coming to the church's defense in a squabble with the mayor of DC.
District Court Judge Trevor McFadden granted a preliminary injunction, allowing Capitol Hill Baptist Church to hold outdoor services with more congregants than the District of Columbia allows. The church has around 850 members, but in the name of fighting COVID-19, the District limited outdoor church services to 100 people. No indoor services are allowed.
"What this [injunction] means … is that Capitol Hill Baptist Church will be able to safely meet outside this coming Sunday; of course, subject to social distancing and everyone wearing a mask, which is what they want to do anyway: to care for one another and to care for their neighbors," says attorney Jeremy Dys of First Liberty Institute, the law firm representing the church.
"They're working hard right now on plans to safely meet outdoors in a way that is very respectful and caring of their local community," he adds.
The District of Columbia could choose to appeal. In the meantime, Dys says the church is eager to meet.
"They believe that a church is one who gathers in person," says the attorney. "They have no online service or online presence for those kinds of services, even in regular times, as there are just certain things you can't do over the Internet – and meeting as a church, as a called-out body, is one of [those things] for this congregation."
"This is a good decision," says Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. "The church just wanted to be able to worship, and the worship that they're requesting is outdoor worship. But Mayor Muriel Bowser, who supports the Black Lives Matter protests and even paints Black Lives Matter on the streets of the district, refused to grant them a permit to be able to even gather together."
Regarding the judge's ruling, Staver says the judge pointed out the mayor is missing the point about religious freedom.
"But this judge sure did not miss the point," he adds.
The U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement of interest in the case earlier this month, saying the District's limits on outdoor gathers did not apply to "among other things, outdoor protests and rallies accommodating thousands."
This story has been updated with comments from Mat Staver.