As state and local governments have imposed various restrictions on businesses, assemblies, and churches during the pandemic, officials at the Justice Department have repeatedly stated that churches and religious gatherings cannot be singled out for greater restrictions than those imposed on similar institutions.
Attorney General Barr, in an April 14 statement, said that the constitution allows for a temporary suspension of freedoms during an extraordinary circumstance when the public safety requires it, but that freedom of religion cannot be treated more severely than other freedoms of assembly.
In cases "when the community as a whole faces an impending harm of this magnitude, and where the measures are tailored to meeting the imminent danger, the constitution does allow some temporary restriction on our liberties that would not be tolerated in normal circumstances," Barr said.
He added that "government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity. For example, if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places of assembly to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings."
Later in the summer, when New York City allowed mass protests against racism in spite of its restrictions on the size of outdoor gatherings, Justice Department officials wrote Mayor Bill de Blasio reminding him that he could not enforce a double standard for churches and protests.
Fleischmann, in his August 5 letter to Barr, said that religion is a source of "comfort and peace" during troubled times, "but these attacks add another level of distress for many across our nation."