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Justice Dept Seeks to Protect Religious Freedom in Pandemic: Barr

Justice Dept Seeks to Protect Religious Freedom in Pandemic: Barr
Barr (AP)

Tuesday, 14 April 2020 04:03 PM

Attorney General William Barr said on Tuesday the Justice Department will work to uphold the constitutional right to freely practice religion as states and cities seek to contain the spread of the coronavirus by limiting worship services.

"The United States Department of Justice will continue to ensure that religious freedom remains protected if any state or local government, in their response to COVID-19, singles out, targets, or discriminates against any house of worship for special restrictions," Barr said in a statement, referring to the globally pandemic disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

According to The Hill, Barr said Tuesday that government may not impose "special restrictions" on religious gatherings. This, as some houses of worship continue to hold and plan in-person gatherings in defiance of guidance from politicians and public health officials.

"The Constitution does allow some temporary restriction on our liberties that would not be tolerated in normal circumstances,” he said in a statement, as quoted by The Hill. "“But even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity."

Barr pointed to Justice having filed a memo in support of a Mississippi church after congregants were fined $500 apiece for attending parking lot services. (The memo can be seen here.) The Justice Department suggested in its filing that Greenville officials had singled out the services but would not apply similar penalties to those going to area drive-thru restaurants. 

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

© 2021 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.


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Attorney General William Barr said on Tuesday the Justice Department will work to uphold the constitutional right to freely practice religion as states and cities seek to contain the spread of the coronavirus by limiting worship services. "The United States Department of...
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2020-03-14
Tuesday, 14 April 2020 04:03 PM
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