In a victory for churches and religious residents in D.C., a judge has determined that the city government’s ongoing strict regulation of worship services is unconstitutional.
The ruling came as part of a lawsuit filed by Reverend Wilton Gregory, the Catholic archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, against D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser in both her personal and official capacities. The federal district judge in his ruling granted the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction against Bowser’s policies, which have imposed uniquely strict regulations on houses of worship in the district.
After the archdiocese filed this suit around Christmas last year, the city raised its draconian restriction for houses of worship from 50 people to 250 people. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church in D.C. argued that an ongoing numerical cap on attendance was needlessly restrictive, considering that many churches within D.C. could accommodate more than 500 individuals while still allowing for proper social-distancing measures.
In fact, as the district judge noted in his ruling, under the city’s harsh policies for houses of worship, D.C.’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception would be limited to allowing a number of worshippers that would fill only “about eight percent of its capacity.” And as the judge pointed out, under the city’s own standards, that same sort of restriction would not be applied to an institution that “hawked wares instead of proclaimed the Gospel.”
This ruling is a major victory for religious believers residing in D.C., who have spent the past year living under some of the country’s harshest restrictions on houses of worship. And the timing is particularly apt, as Passover and Easter both will be celebrated this coming week.