D.C. Catholic Church Asks Court for Order to Stop Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Worship Restrictions

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at a news conference in Washington on Saturday, March 7, 2020, to announce the first presumptive positive case of the COVID-19 coronavirus. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The Archdiocese of Washington, DC, is seeking legal relief from coronavirus restrictions through a restraining order that would temporarily strike down attendance caps at houses of worship.

The lawsuit is against Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and her lockdown orders, according to the Washington Post, which notes that its filing coincides with a large church in the archdiocese, St. Michael the Archangel in Silver Spring, Maryland, closing because the pastor of that congregation tested positive for coronavirus:

According to the parish’s Web site, Monsignor Eddie Tolentino tested positive Dec. 7, and, “it is possible that staff or parishioners were exposed to the virus prior” to that date.

With coronavirus infections in the region climbing, the city last month tightened restrictions on indoor gatherings. Since then, houses of worship, no matter the size, are allowed to hold 50 people maximum, or be at 50 percent capacity — whatever is smaller. The motion asks that the 50-person cap be struck down, leaving the 50 percent capacity limit in place.

To get the legal issues resolved before Christmas, the motion asks the District Court to decide by Friday. It was filed by the archdiocese’s lawyers, from the nonprofit religious liberty group, Becket. The urgent motion asks the judge at least for a temporary restraining order — which stays in effect for a short time as the case proceeds — or for a preliminary injunction, which lasts until the case is completely resolved. The judge may make a narrow ruling for only a specific time period and only applicable to the archdiocese, or could rule on the city’s rules more broadly.

The archdiocese filed the lawsuit on Friday. That complaint said that one argument against the attendance cap is that parishes in nearby Maryland and Virginia have already met without caps.

“Plaintiff’s churches have safely celebrated thousands of Masses with more than 50 people over many months — in dense population centers bordering the District — without a single outbreak traced to any Mass,” the motion said.

“There are lots of other things going on rightly that are subject only to capacity percentage and it doesn’t make sense to say you can’t do religious worship,” Mark Rienzi, Becket’s president, told the Post. “There are a lot of people who do want to go to church, especially in a hard year, and the Church wants to make itself available. There is no good reason why not.”

The Post reported that another church in D.C. went to court to seek relief from restrictions on worship. A D.C. federal court in October granted permission for Capitol Hill Baptist Church to allow large groups to meet outside.

This development comes just days before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled in favor of houses of worship in Colorado and New Jersey that opposed capacity limits on worship services.

Follow Penny Starr on Twitter or send news tips to pstarr@breitbart.com.


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