D.C mayor loosens worship restrictions on churches after archdiocese files lawsuit

The restrictions on church gatherings to 50-person limit in Washington D.C., due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been lifted. This was after the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington D.C. filed a lawsuit against the 50-person limit gathering. D.C Mayor, Muriel Bowser, in response to the lawsuit, issued an executive order to permit churches to have up to 250 persons gathered in one service.

The new order became effective on Thursday, December 17, 2020. The Washington Times reported that either 250 persons or 25 percent of the buildings maximum capacity is allowed. In acknowledging the order of the Mayor, the archdiocese said:

"We are grateful that the new order will allow us to welcome more of the faithful to Church during the Christmas season and beyond. We are continuing to evaluate the impact of these new rules, and it may still be necessary for the court to weigh in on the proper balance between public safety and the fundamental right to worship. As always, we welcome continued dialogue with the Mayors Office to ensure that current and future restrictions are fairly applied and do not unduly burden the free exercise of religion."

Same day the law became effective, the Mayor asked that Christians celebrate Christmas virtually. In her words:

"This year is not the year to pack churches full of people. We are asking people to the best extent they can to celebrate virtually. In addition, Bowser raised the issue of a case brought by the Brooklyn Diocese and Orthodox Jewish synagogues to the U.S Supreme Court against New Yorks COVID-19 restrictions.

"I have a responsibility to D.C. residents, to tell them what we know, and to regardless of what courts say to ask them to do what is good for the city, and for themselves, and for the family. So I have great faith in D.C. Catholics. I am one of them,” Bowser said. 

Also, she stated that the new rules had not made the archdiocese to withdraw the case.

In her previous COVID-19 order, the Mayor stated that Bowsers previous coronavirus order said worship services could not have more than 50 people even if the capacity of a church was 10,000.

According to the archdioceses lawsuit, they had worked with the District of Columbia to protect public health. In that process, they voluntarily suspended public Masses in March. However, physical services resumed in June and the lawsuit emphasized that the archdiocese has shown that people can worship God in a safe, responsible, and cooperative way. 

This has led to an exemplary safety record: thousands of Masses, with zero known COVID outbreaks linked to the Mass. Yet 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.

Furthermore, the suit added that for public libraries, Laundromats, retail stores, restaurants, tattoo parlors, nail salons, fitness centers, and many other establishments, the District imposes capacity-based limits, rather than hard caps.

It will be recalled that in October, a federal judge ruled against the restriction order of more than 100 persons on outdoor church services by the mayor. Hence, Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., had to resume in-person outdoor services.

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