By Tiffany Williams –
Pastor Kristopher Casey at Adams Square Baptist Church held in-person services again Wednesday night, challenging Governor Baker’s social distancing orders. It is the 3rd time he’s violated the governor’s social distancing orders.
In a similar situation, Lighthouse Fellowship Church in Chincoteague Island, Virginia is challenging Governor Ralph Northam’s executive orders limiting in-person gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Justice Department has gotten involved in that situation and federal prosecutors submitted a statement of interest with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia supporting Lighthouse Fellowship Church.
In their statement of interest, federal prosecutors say, “Based on the materials before the Court, Plaintiff has demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of its claim under the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution that the Commonwealth’s executive orders have prohibited religious gatherings at places of worship, even with social distancing and personal hygiene protocols, while allowing comparable secular gatherings to proceed with social distancing.”
On April 27, United States Attorney General William Barr issued a memo to federal prosecutors to keep watch for state and local directives that could infringe upon constitutional rights and civil liberties, including measures that may discriminate against religious institutions.
In His memo, Attorney General William Barr says “As the Department of Justice explained recently in guidance to states and localities taking steps to battle the pandemic, 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. The legal restrictions on state and local authority are not limited to discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. For example, the Constitution also forbids, in certain circumstances, discrimination against disfavored speech and undue interference with the national economy. If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court.”
Attorney General William Barr in his memo also said that he is “Directing the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Eric Dreiband, and Matthew Schneider; the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, to oversee and coordinate our efforts to monitor state and local policies and, if necessary, take action to correct them.”
On May 4, 2017 President Trump signed a ‘Religious Liberty’ Executive Order and he said then, “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore.” Even now, with the coronavirus the President has said that the “the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”
While the DOJ has not yet stepped in or gotten involved in the situation at Adams Square Baptist Church, the pastor says he plans to keep going, and will even hold a baptism on Sunday.