Senators Side with Capitol Hill Baptist Church as D.C. Allows Mass Protests While Barring Most Outdoor Worship Services  

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today joined dozens of her colleagues in filing an amicus brief supporting the religious freedom lawsuit filed by the Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) against Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and the District of Columbia.

The amicus brief, led by Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), argues that selective enforcement of COVID-19 orders by Bowser and the District violates the church’s First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

“This amicus brief argues that religious freedom is not a second-tier First Amendment right under the Constitution,” Hyde-Smith said.  “I appreciate Senator Wicker leading this effort to protect the constitutional rights of worshipers.”

CHBC in late September filed the complaint in light of Bowser permitting and participating in mass protests, while continually prohibiting religious gatherings of more than 100 individuals outdoors.

The Senators’ amicus brief argues, in part:  “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.  This Court should enforce the First Amendment’s promise of free speech for all by issuing a preliminary injunction to prevent the Mayor and the District of Columbia from prohibiting outdoor religious services that adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.”

CHBC has complied with the COVID-19 orders issued by Bowser since March, which include banning outdoor religious services of more than 100 people, regardless of social distancing and mask wearing.  Since June, however, Bowser and the District of Columbia have supported outdoor protests and gatherings of other groups.

In June and again in September, the District denied CHBC applications to waive the 100-person restriction to facilitate outdoor worship services in the city.

Other Senators signing the amicus brief include:  Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Thune (R-S.D.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), James E. Risch (R-Idaho), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.).

A copy of the Senators’ amicus brief is available here.

In addition to this brief, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement of interest in federal district court supporting CHBC.