Monday, October 12, 2020

DC Restrictions On Outdoor Church Services Violate RFRA

 In Capitol Hill Baptist Church v. Bowser, (D DC, Oct. 9, 2020), a D.C. federal district court issued a preliminary injunction allowing plaintiff church to hold outdoor services, with masks and appropriate social distancing, beyond the 100-person maximum set out in the D.C. mayor's COVID-19 restrictions. The court concluded that current restrictions on the church's outdoor services violate RFRA.  The court said in part:

The District proposes that under its current restrictions the Church could “hold multiple services, host a drive-in service, or broadcast the service online or over the radio,” as other faith communities in the District have done.... But the District misses the point. It ignores the Church’s sincerely held (and undisputed) belief about the theological importance of gathering in person as a full congregation. The “substantial burden inquiry asks whether the government has substantially burdened religious exercise . . . not whether [the Church] is able to engage in other forms of religious exercise.”... The District may think that its proposed alternatives are sensible substitutes. And for many churches they may be. But “it is not for [the District] to say that [the Church’s] religious beliefs” about the need to meet together as one corporal body “are mistaken or insubstantial.”... It is for the Church, not the District or this Court, to define for itself the meaning of “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.”...

The court made clear that its order applied only to the church that was plaintiff in this case. 

[Thanks to Eugene Volokh via Religionlaw for the lead.]