Lawsuit against DC mayor’s COVID crackdown on Baptist church draws 34 senators’ backing: report

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More than 30 U.S. senators have joined a lawsuit filed against coronavirus limits placed on a Washington, D.C., Baptist church by the city’s mayor, according to a report.

Mayor Muriel Bowser – who gained national attention by ordering the words “Black Lives Matter” painted in the street outside an Episcopal church near the White House that was visited by President Trump in June – has prohibited a different church, the historic Capitol Hill Baptist Church on A Street, from holding outdoor services in the city, citing efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

But earlier this month the Department of Justice sided with the church, claiming it was being blocked from outdoor worship even though the city has seen other outdoor gatherings, such as peaceful protests.

The U.S. government argued in a brief that, "While a local government has significant discretion to decide what measures to adapt to meet a public health threat, the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution requires that, whatever level of restriction it adopts, government must treat religious gatherings the same as comparable nonreligious gatherings."

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., tweeted that he was joining a group of Senate colleagues in supporting an amicus brief in the case, filed by U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

Scott’s Twitter message included some criticism directed at Bowser.

Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, D.C., speaks during a news conference in Washington, D.C., June 25, 2020. (Getty Images)

“The Mayor’s selectiveness in determining which gatherings are permitted is unacceptable & violates the First Amendment & the Religious Freedom restoration Act,” Scott wrote.

In his message announcing his legal filing, Wicker wrote that Capitol Hill Baptist Church was “fighting for fair treatment in our nation’s capital.”

The church wanted its complete 850-member congregation to be able to attend outdoor services but has been prohibited from doing so because of the mayor’s limit of 100 people for outdoor gatherings.

In supporting the church, the Justice Department noted that protests held in the city have sometimes attracted thousands of people – yet have been held unimpeded.

In addition to Wicker, the amicus brief was signed by U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John Thune, R-S.D., John Barrasso, R-Wyo., James E. Risch, R-Idaho, Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, John Boozman, R-Ark., John Hoeven, R-N.D., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Rand Paul, R-Ky., Tim Scott, R-S.C., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Bill Cassidy, R-La., James Lankford, R-Okla., Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Steve Daines, R-Mont., David Perdue, R-Ga., Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Ben Sasse, R-Neb., John Kennedy, R-La., Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Mike Braun, R-Ind., Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga.

Fox News’ Jake Gibson contributed to this story.

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