The Trump administration’s obeisance to the religious right continued over the weekend as the Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in a Virginia case brought by a church that doesn’t want to abide by coronavirus prevention measures.
The anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel is the church’s attorneys. The group serves as the legal arm of the religious right movement and regularly challenges LGBTQ rights in court. It has played a prominent role in attempts to re-open churches.
Lighthouse Fellowship Church sued, saying the ban on gatherings of more than ten people infringed on their religious liberty. Despite the Biblical verse that literally says “where two or three are gathered,” the church insists it needs more than 10 members present for their services.
“For many people of faith, exercising religion is essential, especially during a crisis,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division.
“The Commonwealth of Virginia has offered no good reason for refusing to trust congregants who promise to use care in worship in the same way it trusts accountants, lawyers, and other workers to do the same. The U.S. Department of Justice will continue to monitor any infringement of the Constitution and other civil liberties, and we will take additional appropriate action if and when necessary.”
Office workers like accountants and lawyers are generally considered non-essential workers and are subject to the same lockdown order governing everyone else.
“The United States believes that the church has set forth a strong case that the orders, by exempting other activities permitting similar opportunities for in-person gatherings of more than 10 individuals, while at the same time prohibiting churches from gathering in groups of more than 10 — even with social distancing measures and other precautions — has impermissibly interfered with the church’s free exercise of religion,” Attorney General William Barr wrote in the filing.
The church members would be permitted to gather in groups of less than ten. 16 people attended the last service.
“The Orders undoubtedly disrupt normal practice,” U.S. District Court Judge Arenda Allen wrote in a decision to deny the church a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. “There is a global disruption of normal practice. An incidental disruption of normal practice does not convert the Governor’s broadly applicable Orders into a substantial burden on Plaintiff’s right to practice its religion.
“Although this may not be how Plaintiff wishes to practice its religion under ideal circumstances, these are not ideal circumstances.”
Vice President Mike Pence, a darling of the religious right and designated cheerleader for President Trump’s attempts to force states to lift lockdown orders despite the staggering number of deaths it would cause, cheered the decision.
We cannot experience an American Comeback if we stand idly by while the rights of the men and women of this great Country are infringed. Thank you the @TheJusticeDept for acting quickly to protect prayer and worship during these unprecedented times. https://t.co/0cR0Uh0v3I
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) May 4, 2020