Tuesday, March 30, 2021

DC's Capacity Restrictions On Churches Held Invalid

In Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Bowser, (D DC, March 25, 2021), the D.C. federal district court granted a preliminary injunction against D.C.'s COVID-19 capacity restrictions on houses of worship, finding that they violate the 1st Amendment as well as RFRA. The limit of the lesser of 25% or 250 congregants particularly affects the  Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception which seats at least 3000 people. The court said in part:

In practical terms, this means that the Archdiocese’s churches must stop admitting parishioners once they become a quarter full, but Whole Foods or Target can take in as many customers as they wish while complying with social-distancing requirements. “[O]nce a State creates a favored class of businesses, as [the District] has done in this case, [it] must justify why houses of worship are excluded from that favored class.”....

The District’s restrictions are also problematic because the 250-person cap uniquely burdens churches. The Mayor’s order explained that the District set the hard cap at 250 based on the number of persons that “the largest restaurant” could serve at 25 percent capacity....   But as the District admits, “no restaurant in the District has a room that can hold 1,000 people.”

Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.