The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest on Friday in support of a lawsuit filed by a church in Washington, D.C. against Mayor Muriel Bowser for issuing capacity restrictions to places of worship in the city during the coronavirus pandemic.
"We are a nation dedicated to freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. The District of Columbia has, unfortunately, neglected these rights," said Eric Dreiband, who leads Attorney General William Barr's investigation of religious freedom during the coronavirus pandemic.
Capitol Hill Baptist accused Bowser of violating the free speech and free exercise portions of the First Amendment along with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The suit says the city has limited church services, indoors and outdoors, to 100 parishioners while allowing outdoor protests to go on since May.
The church has about 850 members and has sued D.C. for denying it a permit to hold outdoor services with more than 100 people in attendance. The brief filed by the Justice Department says the church has been treated unequally by the city and that the restriction from Bowser puts a "substantial burden" on its freedom to exercise religion.
Capitol Hill Baptist is the only church in the city to sue on First Amendment grounds.
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