Ban on Services: D.C. to Pay Church $220,000 for Legal Fees


The city of Washington D.C. has decided to pay the sum of $200,000 in legal fees for restricting the services of Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC). This decision came after it lost the case at the federal high court nine months ago. The church was represented by First Liberty Institute and WilmerHale LLP and First Liberty Institute.

Last year, Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) sued the city over rules that banned religious gatherings of more than 100 individuals, including outdoor services. The church asked the city to allow them gather outside while observing social distancing and wearing face masks. But the city denied the request of the church.

District Judge Trevor McFadden took sides with the church last October. In his injunction, he ruled that the restrictions “substantially burden the Church’s exercise of religion.” He continued,

“The Church believes that its congregation must meet in person each Sunday to worship together. The Church traces its commitment in part to the scriptural exhortation that adherents should ‘not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.’”

However, the city has agreed it would pay $220,000 in legal fees for the church. Also, it assured that it would adhere to the Supreme Court precedent during any future occurrences. The settlement read in part,

“The District agrees that it will not enforce any current or future COVID-19 restrictions to prohibit CHBC from gathering as one congregation in the District of Columbia. The District further agrees that, should it decide that new restrictions on religious gatherings are necessary during the current, or any future, COVID-19 (or variant thereof) public health emergency, it will not impose restrictions on CHBC that are more restrictive than the restrictions on comparable secular activities, as defined by the Supreme Court.”

In his response, the executive general counsel for First Liberty Institute, Hiram Sasser, said,

“All Capitol Hill Baptist Church ever asked is for equal treatment under the law so they could meet together safely as a church. The church is relieved and grateful that this ordeal is behind them. Government officials need to know that illegal restrictions on First Amendment rights are intolerable and costly.”

If the church had defied the city’s order, they would they would have been fined $1,000 per violation. Unlike other churches, Capitol Hill Baptist Church does not have multiple services or stream its preaching online. 

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