Federal Judge Rules D.C. Mayor’s Pandemic Restrictions on Churches Discriminatory, Unconstitutional

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A Trump-appointed Washington D.C. district judge has sided with the archdiocese of our nation’s capital by ruling that Mayor Muriel Bower’s pandemic restrictions on houses of worship were discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Judge Trevor McFadden, who has sat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia since 2017, put an end to Bowser’s 250-person limit and 25 percent capacity restriction on worship services which he determined to be disproportionate to restrictions on retail establishments as well as an outlier nationally.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington D.C. had filed a complaint against Mayor Bowser for her COVID-19 restrictions placed on houses of worship, particularly as compared to other “essential” establishments, CBN reports.

In his 40-page opinion, McFadden determined that the mayor’s limits on churches “carved out a class of ‘Essential Businesses,’ which were ‘strongly encouraged to remain open’ with no capacity limitations.”

Meanwhile, “‘Essential Businesses’ were defined to include many entities, from hospitals and grocery stores to dry cleaners, liquor stores, and medical marijuana dispensaries. Religious services were excluded.”

“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,” he also wrote.

“The District’s approach to regulating houses of worship reflects a lack of adequate consideration for constitutional rights. The District would no doubt acknowledge that there is risk attendant in many activities it has classified as ‘essential,’ such as picking up a bottle of wine or takeout from a local restaurant. But the District has permitted essential businesses to stay open (often with less-onerous restrictions) because the public’s need for those things apparently outweighs the risk. On the other hand, the District’s restrictions have not recognized religious exercise as essential in the same way,” the opinion stated.

Judge McFadden ended with a firm emphasis on the right of the faithful to worship in the United States, writing.

“In the end, part of the free exercise of religion that the First Amendment protects is a church’s ability to exercise it in the manner it sincerely believes its religion compels,” he stated.

LifeSite News notes that Judge McFadden also sided with Capitol Hill Baptist Church last year when it challenged the mayor’s violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, pointing in his decision to Bowser’s in-person appearance at a Black Lives Matter event in June.

The judge had written that Bowser’s restrictions ignored “the Church’s sincerely held (and undisputed) belief about the theological importance of gathering in person as a full congregation.”

Pointing to the Christian’s moral imperative to gather together, in person, he added that “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.’ Hebrews 10:25.”

This is exactly the kind of ruling we like to hear from the magistrates of our country—rulings that recognize the sacred and biblical prerogative for the people of God to assemble, worship, and live out their faith as ought to be recognized by governing authorities.

Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel applauded the decision and the judge’s commitment to upholding our most sacred constitutional rights.

“Judge Trevor McFadden clearly acknowledges that the First Amendment does not disappear because of Coronavirus. Mayor Muriel Bowser has clearly discriminated against every church in D.C. while participating in a mass gathering of protestors with no limitations. This unequal treatment of churches is unconstitutional. We will continue the fight until religious freedom is totally restored,” he vowed.

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