U.S. Justice Department files statement in support of Pierce county church suing the state over restrictions on religious gatherings

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Gov. Inslee is being sued over state
restrictions on church gatherings during
COVID-19 measures

By Jamie Holter

The U.S. Justice Department this week filed a statement in support of Harborview Fellowship, a Pierce County Church, that is suing the State of Washington over COVID-19 restrictions for religious gatherings.

They argue the restrictions are unconstitutional. The First Amendment guarantees everyone the right to practice his or her own religion or no religion at all. The church claims the limits are a Civil Rights Violation.

Currently, Washington permits indoor religious gatherings of no more than 50 people or a 25% capacity cap, whichever is lower. Outdoor services are limited to 100 people.

Harborview Fellowship argues the Inslee Administration is preventing the others who want to show up but can’t from practicing their religion. But there’s a catch.

While the First Amendment allows for the free exercise of religion, it must be done in a way that follows the dictates of their conscience in a manner that respects others and the public health and safety. And that’s the issue – public health and safety.

The U.S. Department of Justice argues a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a California church that sued California Governor Gavin Newsom (South County United Pentecostal V. Newsom) laid the groundwork for the Pierce County church’s case against Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

SCOTUS Decision

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a surprising 5-4 decision, supported the Newsom Administration. South County United Pentecostal argued that church services were just like grocery stores and banks and other establishments deemed necessary. Freedom to worship in the time of COVID, is necessary, they argued. And so did Attorney General William Barr’s U.S. Attorneys in Western Washington.

Chief Justice John Roberts, siding with the traditionally more liberal Justices, disagreed saying grocery stores were transitory establishments where people come and go. Churches, however, were places where people sat and congregated.

This week, the Department of Justice argued that places of worship, then, should have the same limits as restaurants which is 50 percent capacity and no limit to the number of people inside. AND - outdoor services should have no limits as long as people are practicing safe social distancing with masks. Exhibit A? According to Attorney General Bill Barr - all the Black Lives Matter protests.



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