District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. government are depriving Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) of its members’ only means of worshiping together, according to a suit filed on the congregation’s behalf in federal court.
First established in 1878, CHBC is attended by dozens of congressional staff members who live in the Capitol Hill neighborhood surrounding the U.S. Capitol complex.
Senior Pastor Mark Dever is a nationally known evangelical leader and the founder of the 9Marks organization that provides ministry and administrative resources for churches across the nation.
“For CHBC, a weekly in-person worship gathering of the entire congregation is a religious conviction for which there is no substitute,” the church said in its suit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The CHBC is represented in the suit by the First Liberty Institute, a Plano, Texas-based law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases in state and federal courts.
“The Church does not offer virtual worship services, it does not utilize a multi-site model, and it does not offer multiple Sunday morning worship services,” the CHBC suit continued.
“In March of this year, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser issued an executive order that, among other things, prohibited CHBC from gathering as one for in-person worship, whether indoors or outdoors.
“Now, six months later, that ban on CHBC’s corporate worship gatherings remains in effect in the District of Columbia. The Mayor’s orders prohibit gatherings of over 100 people for purposes of worship, even if held outdoors and even if worshippers wear masks and practice appropriate social distancing.
“Under the District’s four-stage plan, CHBC’s in-person worship gatherings will be prohibited until scientists develop either a widely-available vaccine or an effective therapy for COVID-19.”
The suit notes that Bowser appeared in June as a speaker at an outdoor civil rights protest meeting.
“Defendants have been discriminatory in their application of the ban on large scale gatherings. For example, on June 6, 2020, Mayor Bowser appeared personally at an outdoor gathering of tens of thousands of people at the corner of 16th and H Streets, NW and delivered a speech describing the large gathering as ‘wonderful to see.’”
The church issued a statement regarding the suit, listing Pastor Justin Sok as its spokesman:
“Since its founding in 1878, CHBC has met in-person every Sunday except for three weeks during the Spanish Flu in 1918. That changed following Mayor Bowser’s first orders concerning COVID-19 on March 11, 2020.
“Since that time, the members of CHBC—most of whom live in the District—have been unable to meet in person, as one congregation inside District limits (even outdoors). We are thankful for our mayor and her dedicated efforts to support various interests in D.C. balancing First Amendment freedoms with public health concerns.
“Meeting in-person as one congregation is a deeply-held religious conviction for which there is no substitute. Our simple desire is to have a community and one that meets together safely. CHBC has applied for multiple waivers to the policy, but District officials refuse to provide CHBC with a waiver beyond 100 persons as part of a mass gathering.
“The lawsuit filed Tuesday simply asks that CHBC be permitted to meet in-person, with similar restrictions as area businesses and other gatherings have employed to protect public health. A church is not a building that can be opened and closed. A church is not an event to be watched. A church is a community that gathers regularly and that community should be treated fairly by the District government.”
ARE YOU FOLLOWING HILLFAITH YET? WELL, WHY NOT??