Washington DC Agrees To Pay Church After Ruling Says It ‘Substantially Burdened Free Exercise Of Religion’

Capitol Hill Baptist Church

Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) is set to receive $220,000 from the Washington D.C. state after the two reached a settlement on Thursday.

This comes after the church filed a federal lawsuit against the state in September 2020, fighting to hold outdoor church services while wearing masks and practicing social distancing, the church's representatives from First Liberty Institute argued. In October 2020, the Washington D.C. federal court's District Judge Trevor McFadden ruled in favor of CHBC and granted a preliminary injunction that allowed the congregation to continue holding church services outdoors.

According to Fox News, COVID restrictions in the state were lifted by Democrat Mayor Muriel Bowser in May, but the lawsuit continued, arguing that the state violated the First Amendment. Hiram Sasser, Executive General Counsel for First Liberty Institute said in a statement, "All Capitol Hill Baptist Church ever asked is for equal treatment under the law so they could meet together safely as a church. The church is relieved and grateful that this ordeal is behind them."

Christian Headlines reported that the state of Washington D.C. has agreed to pay $220,000 in legal fees for the church after it reached a settlement. The state also expressed a commitment to comply with the Supreme Court precedent for any restrictions that may be implemented from any future COVID outbreaks in the area.

"The District agrees that it will not enforce any current or future COVID-19 restrictions to prohibit CHBC from gathering as one congregation in the District of Columbia," the settlement between the church and state read. Furthermore, the state added that should any new restrictions arise from public health emergencies in the future, it will "not impose restrictions on CHBC that are more restrictive than the restrictions on comparable secular activities, as defined by the Supreme Court."

If the CHBC defied city orders on COVID restrictions, it would have been required to pay fines of up to $1,000 per violation. Unlike other churches during the COVID pandemic, CHBC did not hold online church services or streamed sermons because it believes that a Sunday worship must be conducted in person so that people can workship together, McFadden explained. He added that CHBC's defiance in upholding in person congregation meetings is part of the "scriptural exhortation that adherents should 'not forsak[e] the assembling of ourselves together.'"

According to the Washington Post, the CHBC's settlement with Washington D.C. is just another of several victories in the U.S. Supreme Court for religious groups fighting for exemptions in the name of the First Amendment. In New York, the Supreme Court prevented COVID restrictions from being implemented on religious services in the fall, as it ruled that such restrictions "violated the free exercise of religion" that other secular facilities were being provided with, such as grocery stores and restaurants. Sasser said that such victories "shows the first amendment is alive and well."