Republicans File Amicus Brief in Support of Religious Freedom in Nation’s Capital

October 8, 2020 Updated: October 8, 2020

Thirty-four Senate Republicans filed an Amicus Brief (pdf) supporting Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s (CHBC) lawsuit against the Mayor of Washington, Muriel Bowser. The senators argue that it is unconstitutional to limit religious gatherings to under 100 people.

According to the Public Health Law Center an Amicus brief is a legal document filed in appellate court cases by non-litigants with a strong interest in the subject matter. Briefs advise the court of relevant, additional information or arguments that the court might wish to consider.

In the Brief, Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) led their GOP colleagues to argue that the District’s rules violate the church’s First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Republicans also criticized the mayor for limiting religious worship while allowing thousands to gather for protests.

“Whether viewed as a matter of free speech, the freedom of assembly, or the free exercise of religion protected by the Constitution and RFRA, the result is the same: The Mayor’s discrimination against houses of worship rests on a mistaken, and unconstitutional, premise that one particular exercise of free speech—a church’s desire to gather together and worship their God—is subordinate to other First Amendment-protected activities,” the senators wrote

Mayor Bowser, a Democrat, issued the initial order prohibiting large gatherings in March 2020 because of the CCP virus pandemic, at which time CHBC discontinued services.

In the District’s phase two orders for reopening (pdf), it states that under “mass gatherings,” no more than 50 people can gather at one time. And this rule was applied to start July 27 until the end of 2020.

In June and again in September, CHBC tried to get a waiver of the 100-person limit in order to hold outdoor church services. The District denied the request, stating that waivers for houses of worship were being denied across the board.

CHBC filed the suit in U.S. District Court Sept. 22, seeking the right to “gather for corporate worship free from the threat of governmental sanction,” saying it wants the mayor to stop violating its First and Fifth Amendment rights.

The suit argues the Bowser administration is giving preferential treatment to “certain expressive gatherings over others” and creating a “de facto exemption” for protests like Black Lives Matter.

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) criticized Democrat’s “double standards” and the mayor’s order to restrict religious services while allowing mass protests.

“I have no criticism for the millions of Americans who peacefully demonstrated in recent days. Their cause is beyond righteous,” the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor. “It is the inconsistency from leaders that has been baffling,” said Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor in June.

“Here in the District of Columbia, the mayor celebrates massive street protests. She actually joins them herself, but on her command, churches and houses of worship remain shut,” McConnell added.

Mayor Bowser’s office did not immediately respond to The Epoch Times for comment.