DC Mayor Bowser eases coronavirus restrictions on churches after lawsuit

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Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a new order allowing an increase in the number of people allowed in houses of worship in Washington, D.C.

The Democrat modified the previous coronavirus rules on Wednesday after facing a lawsuit from the Archdiocese of Washington filed earlier this month which called out the mayor’s “unscientific” and “discriminatory” restrictions.

With Christmas just days away, and with attendance at houses of worship capped at 50 people, the Archdiocese of Washington filed a lawsuit against Bowser on Dec. 11 in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia. The mayor backed down and revised the order in part to “resolve litigation,” but still seemed frustrated by the risks.

“With such a high rate of community transmission, some persons at large gatherings are likely to be exposed to the virus. Such exposure is likely even when a range of additional preventative actions are taken, such as adherence to social distancing rules,” the order read, noting that “large gatherings remain discouraged.

(Image: DC Mayor’s Office/YouTube screenshot)

“A recent lawsuit appears to insist on a constitutional right to hold indoor worship services of even a thousand persons or more at the largest facilities, which flies in the face of all scientific and medical advice and will doubtless put parishioners in harm’s way,” it continued.

Religious facilities are now allowed to fill 25 percent of their venues, or up to a maximum of 250 people, for a single event. Restaurants also saw their indoor dining capacity reduced from 50 percent to 25 under the revised order which placed a 250-person cap on various activities.

The Catholic archdiocese had requested a temporary restraining order earlier this week after filing the lawsuit against Bowser, saying that members’ right to worship was being infringed on by the strict cap on attendance.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington said the orders imposed by the mayor “bear no relation to either the size of the building or the safety of the activity” and they “single out religious worship as a disfavored activity, even though it has been proven safer than many other activities the District favors.”

“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 against Bowser stated.

Montse Alvarado, vice president and executive director of Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told Fox Business host Neil Cavuto that the lawsuit was about “science and common sense.”

“The archdiocese has shown that they can have mass and be socially distanced … so really what this boils down to is discrimination on the part of the city. They are choosing to treat the religious entities different from restaurants where you can sit down for 90 minutes with no masks or tattoo parlors or liquor stores,” Alvarado said.

“It’s better. It’s not best or great but it’s something,” Monsignor Walter Rossi, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine, told The Washington Post about Bowser’s new order.

The largest Catholic church building in North America can seat 3,000 people at a time but the limits have meant that hundreds of worshipers are turned away each service.

“It’s sad for us and heartbreaking almost,” he said. “When people are crying because they want to go to church, how do you console them? I understand the mayor is trying to keep us safe and that’s commendable, but people want and need to go to church. Especially in times like this, when prayer is vital.”

Frieda Powers

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