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Judge Overturns D.C. Restrictions on Churches: 'Just in Time for the Easter Season'

  • Michael Foust Crosswalk Headlines Contributor
  • Updated Mar 26, 2021
Judge Overturns D.C. Restrictions on Churches: 'Just in Time for the Easter Season'

A federal judge on Thursday lifted the District of Columbia’s restrictions on houses of worship and ruled they likely violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

At issue were rules by the D.C. government limiting churches to 250 persons or 25 percent, whichever was less.

District Judge Trevor Neil McFadden issued an injunction against the city, ruling that its “approach to regulating houses of worship reflects a lack of adequate consideration for constitutional rights.” The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington had brought the lawsuit. The city’s other “pandemic-related limitations” remain in effect, the judge wrote.

McFadden was nominated by President Trump. 

Businesses, the judge noted, do not face the same restrictions.

“The District’s 25 percent and 250-person restrictions would not apply to its churches if they hawked wares instead of proclaimed the Gospel,” he wrote.

McFadden also said the restrictions defied logic. The Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. “is so vast that the Statue of Liberty could lie beneath its luminescent dome.” But under the restrictions, it can admit no more than 250 people, “about eight percent of its capacity,” the judge wrote.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty applauded the ruling and noted the restrictions were lifted “just in time for the Easter season.”

“D.C. joins the 37 states that have no numerical or percentage caps on attendance at houses of worship,” Becket said on social media. “D.C. houses of worship are now free of arbitrary numerical limits and may welcome as many worshippers as can safely attend wearing masks and social distancing.

“D.C.’s restrictions unfairly singled out worship services and mandated arbitrary numerical attendance caps regardless of building capacity,” Becket added. “All other states have loosened their restrictions on in-person worship but it seems that D.C. never got the memo.”

The 25 percent/250 person limit was issued by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in December after the archbishop filed suit. The previous restriction limited churches to 50 percent capacity or 50 people, whichever was less.


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Photo courtesy: Vlad Tchompalov/Unsplash

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.