DOJ Files Statement of Interest in Mississippi Case of Religious Discrimination by Govt. Ministry of Coronavirus Compliance…

April 14, 2020 by sundance

From the press release this is an interesting, and oddly colloquial, way for the United States Dept of Justice under AG Bill Barr to define the first amendment.

…”Social distancing, while difficult and unfamiliar for a nation that has long prided itself on the strength of its voluntary associations, has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of American lives from an imminent threat.”…

I never quite thought about the first amendment as being so casual.  Let’s all attend our ‘voluntary associations’ on Sunday.  Alrighty then… Though, well, I do wonder what an involuntary association would be. I digress; I’m being petty.

[DOJ] “Today, the Department filed a Statement of Interest in support of a church in Mississippi that allegedly sought to hold parking lot worship services, in which congregants listened to their pastor preach over their car radios, while sitting in their cars in the church parking lot with their windows rolled up. 

The City of Greenville fined congregants $500 per person for attending these parking lot services – while permitting citizens to attend nearby drive-in restaurants, even with their windows open.[1]  The City appears to have thereby singled churches out as the only essential service (as designated by the state of Mississippi) that may not operate despite following all CDC and state recommendations regarding social distancing.

As we explain in the Statement of Interest, where a state has not acted evenhandedly, it must have a compelling reason to impose restrictions on places of worship and must ensure that those restrictions are narrowly tailored to advance its compelling interest.  While we believe that during this period there is a sufficient basis for the social distancing rules that have been put in place, the scope and justification of restrictions beyond that will have to be assessed based on the circumstances as they evolve.

Religion and religious worship continue to be central to the lives of millions of Americans.  This is true more so than ever during this difficult time.  The pandemic has changed the ways Americans live their lives.  Religious communities have rallied to the critical need to protect the community from the spread of this disease by making services available online and in ways that otherwise comply with social distancing guidelines. 

The United States Department of Justice will continue to ensure that religious freedom remains protected if any state or local government, in their response to COVID-19, singles out, targets, or discriminates against any house of worship for special restrictions.”  (LINK)

DOJ Files Statement of Interest in Mississippi Case of Religious Discrimination by Govt. Ministry of Coronavirus Compliance…