CNA Staff, May 4, 2020 / 09:00 am
The Justice Department (DOJ) is backing a small community church suing Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, arguing that the state cannot single out churches for public health restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lighthouse Fellowship Church on Virginia's Eastern Shore filed suit last week against Northam's stay-at-home order prohibiting church gatherings with more than ten people inside. The DOJ filed a statement of interest on Sunday in the case.
"The United States has a substantial interest in the preservation of its citizens' fundamental right to the free exercise of religion, expressly protected by the First Amendment," the brief states.
Although the state can lawfully restrict gatherings during a public health emergency, it must do so without discriminating against religion, the DOJ argued in its brief. So far, Virginia has not shown that it applied restrictions evenly for secular and religious gatherings, as many exemptions exist for various businesses but not for churches, the DOJ said.