Democratic D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has eased restrictions on houses of worship following a lawsuit by the Catholic Church accusing the Democrat of “arbitrary” and “discriminatory” restrictions on churches ahead of Christmas.
In a lawsuit filed Dec. 11, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington said Bowser’s restrictions “bear no relation to either the size of the building or the safety of the activity” and “single out religious worship as a disfavored activity, even though it has been proven safer than many other activities the District favors.”
Bowser modified the city’s attendance limits in a Wednesday order, removing the 50-person limit for religious gatherings and instead capping places of worship at 25% capacity with a maximum of 250 people. The modified order still discourages large gatherings and warns that those who attend large gatherings are putting themselves at risk.
Represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington requested an injunction allowing “sufficient time before Christmas Eve to allow the Archdiocese to plan and celebrate Mass with percentage-based limits rather than a 50-person cap.”
“Under both the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the District’s arbitrary, unscientific, and discriminatory treatment of religious worship is illegal,” the lawsuit said.
“As Christmas fast approaches, the District has imposed arbitrary 50-person caps on Mass attendance—even for masked, socially-distant services, and even when those services are held in churches that can in normal times host over a thousand people,” the lawsuit said, noting that the District imposed capacity-based limits on libraries, laundromats, retail stores, fitness centers, and other establishments.
The lawsuit also said that half of the Archdiocese of Washington’s churches can accommodate 500 or more worshippers: St. Matthew’s Cathedral fits over 1,000 worshippers and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is the largest Catholic church in the United States, can hold thousands of the faithful, according to the lawsuit.
“These arbitrary restrictions violate the rights of more than 650,000 D.C.-area Catholics, who—at the end of this most difficult year—now face the chilling prospect of being told that there is no room for them at the Church this Christmas,” the suit continued.
Bowser’s office has not responded to requests for comment from The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The case is one of several religious freedom disputes that have come before the Supreme Court this year.
In a monumental religious freedom case, religious organizations in New York took Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the Supreme Court over his restrictions on houses of worship, accusing Cuomo of “targeting Orthodox practices.” The court sided with religious organizations in the 5-4 ruling the night before Thanksgiving.
A December Gallup poll found that only those who attended religious services weekly saw a positive change between 2019 and 2020 in how they rated their mental health. No other demographic group in the Gallup poll saw a percentage increase in rating their mental health as excellent during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Houses of worship and religious services provide so much more than just a weekly meeting place—they are where so many Americans find strength, community, and meaning,” Caleb Lyman, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s director of research, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in early December.
“Findings from this year’s Religious Freedom Index—that 62% of respondents said that faith had been important during the pandemic—align with Gallup’s findings on the importance of religious services to Americans’ mental health,” Lyman said.
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