DC archdiocese sues over Christmas Mass restrictions

The Archdiocese of Washington is suing the District of Columbia over restrictions on public worship during the coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia.

“From the start of the pandemic,” the lawsuit argues, “the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington has worked with the District of Columbia to protect public health, including by voluntarily suspending public Masses in March.”

“Since Mass resumed in June, the Archdiocese has demonstrated that people can worship God in a safe, responsible, and cooperative way. This has led to an exemplary safety record,” said the archdiocese. “Yet 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, brought by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty on behalf of the archdiocese, argues that the restrictions imposed by Mayor Muriel Bowser are “unscientific” and “discriminatory” and single out religious practice as a “disfavored activity” compared to other businesses and institutions not forced to adopt the same measures despite poorer safety records.

“Indeed, if the Archdiocese were to fill its churches with library books, washing machines, exercise bikes, restaurant tables, or shopping stalls instead of pews, the District would allow many more people to enter and remain for an unlimited amount of time,” said the suit.

“That is because for public libraries, laundromats, retail stores, restaurants, tattoo parlors, nail salons, fitness centers, and many other establishments, the District imposes capacity-based limits, rather than hard caps.”

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